BALTIMORE—Sitting in The Hippodrome Theatre on Feb. 10, architectural designer Stewart White was reflecting on 5,000 years of culture.
“I was just reflecting on how I would like to see those things kept alive. I’m completely opposed to any kind of book burning or political operations to wipe out the past. So I’m in absolutely wonderment about bringing back ancient cultural dances and traditions,” Mr. White said during intermission at a Shen Yun Performing Arts performance, which he attended with Ms. Kim LiPira.
“It’s part of our DNA, it’s accumulated knowledge that goes through generations and generations,” he said. “We just pick it up and we have a richness to our cultural lives because of it. If we wipe out everything we did before we’re always starting from zero, reinventing in a way.”
Traditional Chinese culture, which is said to be divinely inspired, was passed on continuously over 5,000 years. It wasn’t until just decades ago when communism came into power that the culture was nearly driven to extinction with systematic campaigns launched to uproot it, like the Cultural Revolution.
“In a way every totalitarian regime wants to clean out everything that happened before. Life’s not that simple. You can’t just sweep everything away. Life is full of ambiguity and confusion and ugliness and beauty and you’ve got to have all of it,” Mr. White said.
And much of that was presented through Shen Yun, which takes audiences on a journey through the ups and downs of China’s rich history. In one dance, one of China’s most illustrious emperors, Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, goes up against a power hungry general as a child in order to defend his throne. Another dance presents the “yangge,” one of China’s oldest folk dances, in a celebratory number.
The 20-some vignettes, paired with a unique orchestra blending East and West and an animated backdrop, showed everything from the grace of the Tang Dynasty ladies of court—China’s cultural golden age—to the silliness of monkeys in an excerpt from the famous novel “Journey to the West.”
Mr. White, an award winning water colorist brings buildings to life with his capability to render meticulously using traditional transparent techniques. He compared several forms of art to describe the effect of Shen Yun’s production.
The stories, comedy and tragedy alike, are done in a “big way to express difficult things to express,” he said. “That’s why you look at a painting sometimes. If I had words I’d write about it, but instead I paint about it, and it has multiple meanings for people, depending on what they are.”
“I’m excited by the whole spectacle of it,” he said.
Ms. LiPira, a business development executive, said “it brings a lot of beauty.”
This was her first time seeing classical Chinese dance, as it is with most audience members.
The comprehensive dance system has its own set of postures, movements, and techniques. In addition to that, classical Chinese dancers need to master an array of aerial techniques like flips, spins, and leaps. And then there is the unique emphasis on bearing, or the inner spirit of the dancer and character.
“I think it’s a lot harder than they make it look,” she said.
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.