Theatregoers in Eastern Canada revelled in the majesty of Shen Yun Performing Arts as the company wrapped up its 2016 Canadian tour last week.
Following a successful run in Vancouver earlier this year, Shen Yun performed shows in Toronto, Mississauga, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, Hamilton, Montreal, and Quebec City starting in late April. The New York-based group has toured Canada for 10 years, developing a following that grows exponentially each year.
Shen Yun bills itself as the world’s premier classical Chinese dance and music company, and yet it imparts much more in their performance than mere spectacle. The music, dance, and artistry are actually vehicles for the spirit and this is something that audiences across the globe have recognized. The company provides a tangible transcendent experience to its audience, one that is rare in today’s style-over-substance entertainment industry.
Shen Yun has stated that its mission is to revive China’s 5,000-year-old culture and share it with the world. Imparting the essence of that great civilization within a two-hour performance requires that the performers themselves become the beacons and living proprietors of the culture. To do so, tremendous self-discipline and an active purification of the mind and body is required. This concept of self-cultivation has a long history in Chinese culture and is the cornerstone of the 5,000-year enrichment of that civilization. By following in this tradition, Shen Yun’s performers are able to showcase a sincerity and integrity that contains the essence of China’s cultural history.
Each year, audiences enthuse about the dance, music, costuming, and technology that brings ancient China to life onstage. But this year, much of the audience feedback spoke as well to a more profound and transformative experience.
For Frances Abley, a registered nurse and artist who took in Shen Yun in Hamilton, seeing the show was a profound experience.
“It touched me. It touched me deeply inside, right the way down, and sat in my belly and circled in my belly. I felt at one with everything. How else can I say it? It was glorious. I really don’t have words to describe the feeling,” she said after the show.
“I was humbled, so deeply, deeply humbled. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t need to cry,” she added.
“Everything that I experienced on the stage—I experienced innocence, pure innocence; fabulous movement of the dancers that just swept across; the colour; the scenes from China; the blossoms; the mountains…”
The beauty and wisdom China’s ancient culture also touched business woman Denise Duncan, who also saw the show in Hamilton. She attended with her daughter.
“Our souls are enriched. We won’t be the same. We came in as certain people but we leave as different people tonight, all of us. I know that. … Everybody leaves on a high note tonight,” said Ms. Duncan.
“It was an arts and culture show which also touched the soul in so many ways—life lessons, life history, bringing the world together at some point. It was so beautiful—beautiful to share the culture, to learn that we all are one through this dance and music, and it had some very pointed messages for the world as a whole,” she added. “The universe definitely talked through this play.”
When Jackie Marino comes across something exceedingly sublime, her word for it is “beyond,” and that’s how she described Shen Yun’s performance.
“Extraordinary, uplifting, inspiring—like a connection to the divine,” said Ms. Marino, a professional singer and children’s entertainer.
“I loved it. Beyond, beyond—that’s my word for when it’s not even part of our world. It’s “beyond.” Just beautiful.”
For Gaelic singer Sina McKenna, seeing Shen Yun at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on May 8 was an unforgettable experience.
It was her third time to see the show, and she explained how watching the classical Chinese dance and music production touched her heart deeply.
“I let my own intuition and my own creativity flow, like a child does,” she said. “It was delightful. It just touched so much of my innocence and my heart. It opened my heart to the purity and beauty of the culture … and the dignity.”
A Sense of Hope
Nathalie Martel said she felt a sense of hope after seeing the show.
“It does make you see that there is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Not to give up and to believe that things can be positive, and if we stand together, peace and love will conquer,” she said.
“I think it also makes you believe in yourself because if you watch carefully all the stories—what I’ve learned is we are all somebody, we all have feelings.”
Music teachers Mike and Cecilia Foltz took in the first Kitchener-Waterloo show. Mr. Foltz is a piano and organ teacher, while his wife teaches piano, violin, and vocal music.
“The performers really knew what they were doing. They told the story through their dance … you were right on stage with them. Just beautiful,” said Ms. Foltz.
For both of them, the spiritual aspect of the performance was very important.
“Amazing. I read about it, but I think that until you experience it you don’t really understand. It puts you in touch with something that we don’t see enough of in our society,” said Mr. Foltz.
“We all have our own way and need to find our own way, but we need to be in touch with our Creator as well because that helps us understand who we are and why we’re here. That’s something that’s really important and I think many people think that they are here for themselves, and I think we have to stop and look and listen and think and understand that there’s more to it than that.”
Radio host and music enthusiast Tom Quick was especially taken with the synchronicity between the orchestra and the dancers.
“I love the music. I enjoyed the orchestra in Toronto last year and I enjoyed them tonight. The dancers were phenomenal. The coordination, the choreography was just immaculate. It was a great show,” he said after one of the Kitchener-Waterloo shows.
“I found that the music was very descriptive. It painted the picture and coordinated with what was going on. So the dancing and the music was such a great combination—very impressive.”
CBC journalist Alain Saint-Ours was impressed by the artistry onstage when he attended the performance in Québec City on May 4. Seeing the richness exhibited onstage led him to reflect on China’s current suppression of the traditional culture.
“I think of the Chinese [Cultural] Revolution. How can people who have as much imagination accept such limits? [Shen Yun performers] have many abilities, both physical and mental, because to do what they do physically it’s got to be going on in their head too. It must be integrated motion in mind. It is the spirit that dominates the body, it’s not the body that dominates the mind,” he said.
Mr. Saint-Ours noted that these questions of spirituality are ever-present today in all cultures and traditions.
“Who’s God? Every culture has its representation. It is certain that there is a force greater than us. All the performances we see tonight reflect this—something greater than ourselves, only fused by the synchronicity between individuals,” he said.
“There’s no individual who can achieve this alone,” he added. “It’s like a chain in the background. A chain is never stronger than its weakest link. All the links are strong here.”
‘It was Magnificent’
Shen Yun Performing Arts achieved the highest potential of a true art form for Pierre Giroux and his wife, Janine Routhier, who found the production a profoundly moving experience.
“I was very moved by this performance, which was magnificent from all points of view, and something that I have rarely seen—it was truly an expression of the body that touches the divine element in us,” said Mr. Giroux, who attended the May 1 performance in Montreal.
“From the beginning, I had a feeling of greatness. It was magnificent. It was the essence of the human expression that was approaching the divine.”
“I told myself, ‘This divine element that I feel in the performance, I am part of it,'” said Ms. Routhier. “It’s inspiring, very inspiring.”
Richard Magnan, a retired police officer, had high praise for the performers and their love for and devotion to their craft.
“[The performance] was done with so much devotion, so much love, so much precision that I told myself, if the people who built my house, who made my car, or who made my food or my clothes were as devoted to such perfection, my car would not break, my house would be perfect, I would be in good health,” he said.
He was speaking about Shen Yun’s performers of classical Chinese dance and music, but he took this perspective to a broader level.
“I think it applies to all areas of life, because if people who are in the police, firefighting, legal, and social services would work with the devotion, with the love these [performers] show, and with that aim of perfection, we would solve all problems,” he said.
The “Shen Yun” of Shen Yun Performing Arts means “the beauty of divine beings dancing.” For company owner Daniel St. Arnault, it was a lived experience at Place des Arts in Montreal on April 30.
“It was memorable to see the movement of the divine—in the dance, in the expression, in the flow of energy expressed through the movements. It was truly beautiful,” he said.
“I opened my mind, without any particular emotions, but at one point I felt a certain joy grow in me, becoming stronger and stronger. It then swelled up to my throat, and I almost wanted to exclaim, ‘Yay!’ At the same time, I knew I had to keep quiet, so I just took my time to enjoy all I was seeing, to marvel at it.”
Pamela Boucher, a personal trainer and naturotherapist, was moved by Shen Yun’s Montreal performance on April 30.
“It made me cry. I found beauty in the movements, and also complexity. It’s something that I’ve never seen,” she said. “That touched me tremendously. I think it’s something I will never forget.”
Marlene Koiter is a poet and author. A spiritual woman, she considers the deeper questions of life but didn’t expect the same from Shen Yun at its final show in Mississauga on April 28.
“It was interesting that it ended on a note of hope. And I think that what it probably has done is opened the door for a few people to start thinking in another direction,” she said.
“I think most people suspect very strongly that there’s something else, that there’s something greater, there’s something deeper.
“Perhaps it’s time that we started thinking more deeply about the things that really matter, which is not just the visibles and the tangibles, something beyond that. Who we are really, where we came from? Did we come from heaven originally? And are we on the way back there?”
Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time. We have proudly covered audience reaction since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.