MELBOURNE, Australia—Shen Yun Performing Arts World Company trombonist Alistair Crawford knows he is home as soon as he sniffs an unmistakable freshness in the air.
“As soon as I smell that and take it in, it feels like being in Australia again,” he said, after landing at Tullamarine International Airport in Melbourne on Feb. 19, en route from New Zealand.
Mr. Crawford is glad to be back in Melbourne as part of the Shen Yun 2016 World Tour which opens at the State Theatre, the first of six performances from Feb. 20 to Feb. 24.
Mr. Crawford was born in Sydney. At age four he moved to country Victoria with his family where he grew up, then moved to Melbourne to study at The University of Melbourne.
When studying at The University of Melbourne he received the Lady Turner Award for the most promising musician, and pursued later studies at the Australian National Academy of Music.
He has had a wide and varied career as a musician, performing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic, and the Melbourne Opera, among others.
Since 2012, Mr. Crawford has played trombone for the Shen Yun Performing Arts Orchestra, which prides itself with a unique approach of combining Western and Eastern composition.
“The ability to seamlessly blend these two systems to create one fresh, harmonious sound is what makes the Shen Yun Orchestra unique,” the Shen Yun website states.
“A Western orchestra plays the foundation, while traditional Chinese instruments lead the melodies. The sound produced is uniquely pleasing to the ear. The ensemble at once expresses both the grandeur of a Western orchestra and the distinct sensibilities of China’s 5,000-year-old civilization.”
And although he is Australian-born, he says he feels “a significant connection to the Chinese culture, despite not having a direct connection of ethnicity,” he said.
“One gets the sense that it’s something very meaningful to be a part of, and I think that people of almost any culture can get that sense by being part of [Chinese culture], if they really tune into it, really immerse themselves.”
Mr. Crawford also derives great satisfaction from being able to be a part of bringing this performance to people all around the world and to Australia.
“It is something very unique. It’s something that everyone who’s involved can treasure,” he said. “[Music is] definitely a universal language.”
‘They won’t be able to see this anywhere else’
Classical Chinese dancer Songtao Feng has visited Melbourne nine times since the company’s inception in 2006, 10 years ago.
“I feel like Melbourne is a centre for arts and culture and I personally believe the audience will love our show because we have a new show every year and different stories from different Chinese histories and different ethnic dances,” he said. “I feel like it’s a very good experience that anyone would enjoy.”
Learning classical Chinese dance was difficult at first, he said.
“Classical Chinese dance is sort of like ballet, but it is different. It has 3 major parts. We have different types of tumbling, different jumps and different techniques too. It’s a very challenging art form that requires a lot of flexibility, obviously, and a lot of training. We train many, many hours per day.”
For Mr. Feng classical Chinese dance is more about expressing himself on stage, expressing the music as opposed to finishing a routine, or figuring out steps.
“Classical Chinese dance talks about emotion, there needs to be emotion so that’s something I try to think about on stage.”
He said since Shen Yun has a mission to revive 5,000 years of classical Chinese culture, he hoped the audiences would enjoy the colourful, vigorous and exhilarating presentation.
“They won’t be able to see this [performance] anywhere else, they can only come watch Shen Yun,” Mr. Feng said.
‘We have a very strong message of hope for the future’
For dancer Stephanie Guo, this 2016 world tour will be her third in Melbourne.
“Melbourne I feel it’s a city of a lot of different cultures and so I hope the people of Melbourne can come to our show and get a taste of 5,000 years of Chinese culture, the true traditional Chinese culture,” she said.
In China, the authentic Chinese traditions have been systematically attacked for the past few decades since communist rule, so since its inception, Shen Yun is not welcomed in its homeland.
Stephanie said as a child, she had no idea what traditional Chinese culture was about.
But, through all her years of training in classical Chinese dance and over ensuing years she came to realise “how diverse, how deep this culture really is. What’s really sad is that traditional Chinese culture is being suppressed.
“You can’t really see it in China anymore because the government suppresses it. So what brings me joy is that I can travel the world and bring this dying culture to people around the world.”
When Stephanie dances on stage, she said she tries to embody the character she is portraying, “be it a fairy, just a little girl, a different ethnic group or whatever.
“I hope the audiences can really [connect], because they’re going to see something they’ve never seen before and I hope that they can come away with a feeling of what Chinese culture is and what it isn’t.
“In our show we have a very strong message of hope for the future and I hope that the audiences can just really take that in.”
Reporting by NTD Television and Raiatea Tahana-Reese
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.