Shen Yun Tells China’s History with Humor

February 19, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Who knew the villains, heroes, and cast of characters of ancient China could be downright hilarious?

Internet executives Kurt and Donna and their young son Grayson Baumann saw Shen Yun Performing Arts at the Kennedy Center Opera House, sharing laughs with a loudly appreciative audience on Feb. 18.

The New York-based music and dance company was formed by artists in 2006 to bring to the world the authentic traditional Chinese culture. Through the expressive form of classical Chinese dance, the artists breathe life into the stories of 5,000 years of civilization.

China was once known as the Celestial Empire, a place where people strove for harmony between heaven and earth. That nearly came to a full stop when communism took power in China, rooting out traditional culture and beliefs through campaigns like the Cultural Revolution.

Humor and History

Kurt and Donna Baumann and their son Grayson enjoyed the humor and depth of Shen Yun Performing Arts at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Feb. 18, 2016. (Courtesy of NTD Television)
Kurt and Donna Baumann and their son Grayson enjoyed the humor and depth of Shen Yun Performing Arts at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Feb. 18, 2016. (Courtesy of NTD Television)

The stories did not shy away from China’s modern history, or periods of strife.

Instead, Shen Yun took events like the rise of the Red Army in the 1960s, and showed the hopeful side of the story.

“It’s really, really interesting. We all enjoyed ‘The Monks and the Red Guard,'” Mr. Baumann said. “We all thought that was funny, but also very [full of] storytelling.”

Mrs. Baumann thought it was good for people to understand different histories, and even better it could be done with humor. “It’s a lighthearted way to engage with it. So this is the perfect kind of event to bring kids to,” she said.

Grayson agreed: the monks were funny, and he liked the story.

During the ’60s, zealous young people were recruited to raze temples and burn books. In the story-based dance, these unwitting Red Guards encounter a group of monks who possess supernatural skills, according to the program notes.

The characters are playful, the interactions comical, and the situations almost unbelievable. Audience members laugh as well as understand the gravity of the history, that they are witnessing an art form that was once almost lost. There is redemption in the story, and hope for the future, as many theatergoers express.

“I really loved the way they included humor and beauty,” Mrs. Baumann said. “It was really emotive too. it’s kind of taking you up, and taking you down, making you laugh, making you think.”

Depth and Divinity

At first glance, Shen Yun is visual wonder. The curtains came up, and Mrs. Baumann just thought “wow.” Then the rainbows of colors popped up from underneath the fog on stage, and Mr. Baumann gasped out loud.

“It was stunning,” Mrs. Baumann explained.

The family soon saw there was more depth to be discovered.

“They’re going through and showing the different facets of China,” Mr. Baumann said. There was a storytelling aspect to the dance that stood out to the family.

As Shen Yun explains, the classical Chinese dance form is what allows for this unparalleled clarity of expression. Full body movements are amplified with facial expressions, added to that the dancers’ portrayal of the characters’ inner spirits.

As such, even a “huge message” could be understood, said Mrs. Baumann. For her, it was something she saw in the finale.

She loved the showing of heaven in some scenes, and the spiritual aspect of the traditional culture. “Part of what I got out of it was the circle of life,” she said. “That really touched me. That’s what I mean by humor but serious. Meaning, ups, downs. It’s really wonderful.”

Mr. Baumann felt similarly. In baritone Qu Yue’s solo, for instance, “the song that he was singing was very, very spiritual,” Mr. Baumann said. “It’s very interesting … it makes you think.”

All of it came together in an experience that they wanted to repeat, Mrs. Baumann said, and they were sure to share it with loved ones.

“It’s educational but at the same time entertaining. It’s beautiful, it’s really beautiful,” Mrs. Baumann said.

Reporting by NTD Television and Catherine Yang

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.