LOS ANGELES—If an infrared camera were aimed over Southern California for the past six weeks, it might recognize a bright light appearing in Long Beach, then Thousand Oaks, San Diego, Claremont, Costa Mesa, Northridge, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and finally over Santa Barbara.
Those were the cities in which Shen Yun Performing Arts New York Company presented a dazzling spectacle—the essence of China’s 5,000 years of civilization.
Southern Californians know a good thing when they see it, too. Nearly every performance was sold out.
New York-based Shen Yun is the world’s premier classical Chinese dance and music company. Established in 2006 by a group of Chinese artists whose passion for traditional Chinese culture coalesced, it now has four companies that tour the globe each season simultaneously. It’s mission is to revive the resplendent beauty and rich values of China’s past, which were nearly lost after decades of communist rule.
Shen Yun’s website states, “For 5,000 years divine culture flourished in the land of China. Humanity’s treasure was nearly lost, but through breathtaking music and dance, Shen Yun is bringing back this glorious culture.
“Through the universal of music and dance, Shen Yun weaves a wondrous tapestry of heavenly realms, ancient legends, and modern heroic tales, taking you on a journey through 5,000 years of Chinese culture. Its stunning beauty and tremendous energy leave audiences uplifted and inspired.”
Indeed, audience members do use the words “uplifted,” “inspired,” as well as superlatives such as “the best in the world” and “legendary among legends” when they describe their feelings after watching Shen Yun Performing Arts.
‘Most Amazing Thing’
Don Haarer and his wife, Bethanne, caught the final day’s performance at The Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara by making the three-hour drive from Newport Beach.
He said that Shen Yun was “the most amazing thing that you could imagine and that certainly all of the advanced publicity on it was an understatement.”
“That’s what I think,” he said. Mr. Haarer ended up giving a standing ovation for more than three minutes after the performance.
Amazed, he asked himself, how in the world the company managed to combine all the elements with such exactitude, the backdrops, the music, the dancers. “It can’t be duplicated anywhere else,” he said.
Academy Award-winning film producer Michael Phillips thought the performance was magical after seeing it in Los Angeles.
He is known for producing “Taxi Driver” (1976) starring Robert De Niro, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), and “The Sting” (1973), which starred Robert Redford and Paul Newman and received the Academy Award for Best Picture the year of its release.
“It’s magical. It’s very magical. It takes you away,” he said about Shen Yun in general. “It’s fascinating, and it’s more diverse than I expected. It’s ancient, it’s modern—it’s really beautiful,” he said.
Coming from an industry with strong visual impact, Mr. Phillips also mentioned how much he and his wife Juliana Maio, with whom he attended the Shen Yun performance, loved the use of a digital backdrop.
Mr. Phillips said he was “so delighted to see the devices of the characters appearing out of the heaven and bouncing onto the stage. It’s beautifully designed. Really really wonderful.”
“I’m going to insist that certain friends have to come, just to discover what they don’t know,” said Mr. Phillips after watching Shen Yun.
Grammy and Emmy Award-winning musician, producer, and former child actor, watched Shen Yun Performing Arts for the second time with his daughter Fiona Huxley, a singer and actress, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
“We just really loved the performance,” said Mr. Huxley. “I’m glad to see that the traditional values are being supported here, an ancient wisdom.”
Mr. Huxley’s most memorable part of the performance was the two-stringed erhu, a Chinese instrument with a history of thousands of years. It is said that the erhu resembles the two vocal chords of the human voice, giving it an intensely expressive sound.
“It’s so evocative of an ancient time,” said Mr. Huxley about the erhu. “I love that.”
Kimber Eastwood, the daughter of legendary actor Clint Eastwood, is a makeup artist and film producer. She was thrilled to attend the show with her husband, actor and producer Shawn Midkiff, and her mother Roxanne Tunis, whose 86th birthday was celebrated.
Ms. Eastwood found her own belief resonating with the messages expressed by Shen Yun lyrics.
“The words to the songs were really spiritual. We love the message. Some people think we come from evolution. They forget about God. But that’s where we come from. We come from heaven. And that’s the message we have to believe in. We forget that as we go along in this crazy world.”
A non-profit and completely independent of the communist regime, Shen Yun freely presents the quintessence of traditional Chinese culture, which is deeply steeped in spirituality. Whether from the vocal soloists, the Tibetan ethnic dance, or excerpts from China’s literary lore, a common theme in each piece throughout the performance is a reverence for the divine.
A unique feature of Shen Yun is its use of massive, digital projections that serve as backdrops that extend the stage and enable the magic of China’s legends to be seen.
The couple was amazed by the animated digital backdrop and the music. “It’s just incredible. I’ve never seen that [backdrop] before. We really enjoyed it,” Ms. Eastwood said.
“It was very different. The dancers fading up into the moon and becoming a star and then they come back! Very unique.” Ms. Eastwood said.
Mr. Midkiff added, “The music was wonderful. The singers were amazing. They have the [live] orchestra. It’s very important. And the two-string instrument [erhu] was incredible.”
With a big smile on her face, Ms. Eastwood said, “My mom really wants to see this. This is her birthday present.”
An actress and dancer, Roxanne Tunis is known for her work on “Blue City” (1986), “The Birds” (1963) and “Every Which Way But Loose” (1978). Ms. Tunis said that Shen Yun was fantastic.
“It was great, it was great! I used to be a dancer and I really appreciate the dancing. I loved all the photography and the background, just everything. Everyone’s great!”
Ms. Tunis particularly loved the costumes. Shen Yun’s costume artists collect countless designs of traditional attire, ranging from those of emperors, ministers, and generals to the everyday clothing of the common people. They use bright colors to tailor and recreate hundreds of new pieces each season. Every detail is given meticulous attention and is a result of artistic inspiration and careful polishing.
“The costumes are just unbelievable, absolutely fabulous. The dancers are great. I am overwhelmed. The show is spectacular.” Said Ms. Tunis.
Breathtaking History Lesson
William Baldwin, an actor, producer, and writer—the third of the Baldwin brothers—brought his daughter Brooke and friends to see the performance at The Granada Theatre on April 30, and all were pleasantly astonished.
“It was, you know, breathtaking. And surprising,” said Mr. Baldwin. The most surprising for him, he said, was the powerful message of freedom that came through.
The performance, in reviving 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, also pointed out that this traditional culture has been pushed to the brink of extinction in China, deliberately, by the communist regime as it came into power over 60 years ago.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be as powerful as it was in that way,” said Mr. Baldwin, who had been explaining to the girls during the performance things like freedom of religion and freedom of expression, which we take as a given in the United States, but aren’t rights freely enjoyed in China.
“It was a true history lesson about the tradition of political oppression, but also artistic expression about ethnicity, about tradition. It just was a lot of grace in the performance tonight,” Mr. Baldwin said. “It was startling and breathtaking, and we learned a lot.”
He enjoyed that it was told through great choreography and tremendous discipline. He said you could see the amount of effort that had to have gone in to it, such that the orchestra and dancers, “they’re finishing each others sentences.”
“I love the historic and cultural things that [Shen Yun is] sharing with us here,” he said.
“We haven’t had quite an experience like that in all the years that I’ve lived here. I’ve lived here almost 10 years now, so it was special for us.”
Exciting, Educational, Beneficial
Michael Solomon, an entertainment executive who has spent his entire career growing media businesses, enjoyed Shen Yun with his wife at Microsoft Theater.
At age 18, he began his career in film distribution at United Artists, and eventually became the president of international television at Warner Bros.
In his 50 or so years in the business, he became one of the largest distributors of television content.
After seeing Shen Yun, he felt this was something he wanted to share too. He enjoyed the professional display of China’s rich history, and said he would be recommending it to friends.
It was educational on top of being top notch entertainment, according to Mr. Solomon.
“It was really very exciting,” said Mr. Solomon. “I loved it because I loved the stories. They depicted the stories, so this was very educational as well as cultural.”
The stories ranged from “The Mystical Udumbara,” a tiny flower said to bloom once every 3,000 years, to “Monks and the Red Guard,” set in the 1960s with a group of Buddhist monks with supernatural powers.
“I learned some of the history … and China’s history is the oldest history in the world. And I benefited from it,” he said. “I learned something.”
“The dancers were magnificent, they were just beautiful,” he said.
Perfection in the Arts
For Loreen Arbus and Gail Bershon, an artist and a benefactor of the arts, finally making it to a Shen Yun performance was almost an act of serendipity. It was also what they called perfection.
Throughout her career, Ms. Arbus has immersed herself in the world of the arts and entertainment, as a television writer, producer, author, and professional Argentine Tango dancer and choreographer. Foregoing her father Leonard H. Goldenson’s last name, she became a trailblazer in television who made it as the United States’ first woman head of programming at a national network and wanted to do it without relying on being the daughter of the founder of ABC. This was just the beginning of a long resume of innovations.
Ms. Arbus, who splits her time between Los Angeles, New York, Argentina, and Spain, heard about New York-based Shen Yun several years ago, but it wasn’t until last year that she found herself captivated by the colors and designs of the performance in an ad. She bought the tickets, and there was no one she wanted more to see Shen Yun Performing Arts with than Ms. Gail Bershon—an avid theatergoer and Broadway stalwart who is open to trying everything.
Ms. Bershon, similarly, is immersed in the art and philanthropic worlds, directing foundations and raising money for charities. For a time she managed three galleries on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, with President Ronald Reagan among her clients.
For the two discerning women, there was no fault to find in Shen Yun’s presentation of 5,000 years of civilization.
“The whole show was impeccable. I mean, it was really impeccable. From the costumes, to the talents of the dancers to the hand movements to the singers, it was just impeccable, to the orchestra, it was fabulous. Really,” Ms. Arbus said.
Impeccable in Detail
“I mean as an example, the color combination never repeated,” Ms. Arbus said, listing the touches of pink versus peach, the kinds of blues used, the tiny but powerful touches of red used sparingly in the performance.
“The colors were just glorious,” she said. “Every single costume was different from piece to piece. … And the colors always evolved, they were overall thematic, strength, and centered.”
The choreography, too, astounded her in its perfection. No one dancer would raise their arm slightly too high or low, the legs were in absolute precision, and there were even very difficult fight—and flight—scenes choreographed into the stories that she found to be terrific, touching, and flawless.
“It was moving, it was satisfying, it was novel, it was unpredictable. It was [a] completely satisfying artistic experience from every standpoint. Bravo to Shen Yun. Bravo to everyone involved,” Ms. Arbus said. “I’m going to look to see what else I can learn. And I’m definitely going to come back.”
Being in the art world, Ms. Bershon said she had heard many artists promote them, had known about Shen Yun for five years, and thus she was brimming with happiness after the performance.
The staging of the performance was a technical marvel for Ms. Arbus, and it was a wonder to watch for Ms. Bershon.
“It was just done beautifully and it’s different. I mean, what you’re doing has never been done,” Ms. Bershon said. “I can imagine the years of training that went into this and the synchronization of everything—it was incredible. Really. I loved it. Bravo.”
Moved to Tears
Louise Toth brought her friend to see Shen Yun at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
Ms. Toth cried and cried during and after the performance. “It’s fantastic. Everybody should see it … Everybody cried. I’m crying when I am trying to tell you about it. It’s so wonderful,” Ms. Toth said. “[It’s] magnificent, glorious, awesome.”
Louise Toth is a Renaissance woman. She was a school teacher. She is an artist who built and designed homes, and stained glass windows. Best known for creating amazing jewelry pieces, she designs and owns an Egyptian jewelry line.
Being an entrepreneur, she founded Gratitude Media, LLC. With accomplished trainers, she helps businesses achieve greater success through speaking engagements and business training. Her clients include several giant corporations.
One of Ms. Toth’s major accomplishments is being an award winning author. She received the Gold Seal for Literary Excellence, and is a member of Cambridge Who’s Who. Her award winning novel “Thoth & Jesus of Egypt” is a true story of her adventures in Egypt. Being a philanthropist, she contributes all profits from the novel to “Feed The Children Charity.”
Much of her work revolves around sharing what she has learned and created. In Shen Yun, she saw something inspirational she wanted to share with the world.
Ms. Toth was deeply touched by the divine aspect of traditional Chinese culture conveyed in Shen Yun’s performance, and noted the importance of acknowledging the existence of God.
She was referring to two vignettes called “The Divine Renaissance Begins,” and “Hope for the Future,” depicting the Creator descending to earth to save humanity.
Although Ms. Toth is no longer a school teacher, her love for her student never ceases. She wanted to share her inspiration with them.
“I used to be a school teacher. I’d love to bring the children. All children should see this. So they know for sure there is a God [that] makes everything beautiful,” Ms. Toth said. “I wish I had my kids from school that I could bring to see it. I would have them in the front row, it’s life changing for children particularly.”
Ms. Toth would recommend Shen Yun to everyone: “I just want to tell everybody to please see it, because it’s so wonderful. It’s just fantastic. You will love it, you will love it. You will just love it.”
Reporting by NTD Television, Epoch Times, and Albert Roman
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has four touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. For more information, visit Shen Yun Performing Arts.
Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time. We have proudly covered audience reactions since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.