SEATTLE—On April 10, many theatergoers passed through the doors of the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall and entered ancient China. Through music and dance, Shen Yun Performing Arts aims to revive an ancient civilization of 5,000 years.
But what many didn’t know before the performance was that this culture, said to be divinely inspired, is no longer welcome in China, its country of origin.
Marilyn Johnson, a former opera singer now learning ballet, brought her daughter to the performance.
“It seemed like a very special opportunity to peek into that part of history,” Ms. Johnson said.
She said she didn’t realize initially that Shen Yun wasn’t produced in China. Rather, the independent company is based in upstate New York and features acclaimed artists from all over the world.
The company was formed with a mission. According to its website, the artists had gathered in 2006 with the dream of sharing the authentic, traditional Chinese culture with the world.
Under communist rule (1949), the traditional beliefs—in ideas like harmony between heaven, earth, and humankind—and values—like wisdom and propriety, and justice and benevolence—were uprooted and oppressed through systematic and targeted campaigns. Shen Yun aims to reintroduce the world to these traditions and beliefs, through music and dance.
“I loved it, it was really enjoyable. It was exciting, I teared up a little bit,” Ms. Johnson said. “I’ve never had such a combination of the visual and the musical together, ever before. Every different dance told a different story and it took you to a different place and it was just amazing in that regard.”
Also in the audience that night were Raymond Street, a parks technician, and Amber Raven, an artist. The two had been living in Southern China in the 1980s, and left after the Tiananmen Square events in 1989.
Mr. Street said that though he had not seen persecution first hand, there was a distinct feeling that there were things you could not talk about in China at the time, and they did not feel safe.
In one of the story-based dances, Shen Yun showed that the oppression of freedom of belief has not ended in China. Ms. Raven and Mr. Street were interested in the piece “The Steadfast Heart,” which addressed the persecution of a spiritual faith by the communist regime in modern day China.
It was emotional, Ms. Raven said, to see that people are persecuted for believing in what they do. She was touched that Shen Yun brought this, along with the wealth of the ancient Chinese culture, to the audience when they couldn’t even perform at home.
“I’m glad to have been able to see it,” Ms. Raven said.
For Mr. Street, it was unfathomable that people believing in tolerance and compassion would be persecuted.
The performance itself had been gorgeous, he said, and an emotional learning experience.
The Core of Culture
Through beautiful choreography and the uniqueness of classical Chinese dance, Philip Stutzman, a compliance officer for the State of Washington, felt he experienced the essence of traditional Chinese culture, and spiritual quality through the art.
“The appreciation of the culture for the divine came through very strongly. I really appreciated that, and where we came from and where we’re going back to,” Mr. Stutzman said.
Some of the stories showed a loyalty to one’s beliefs, and it reaffirmed for Mr. Stutzman the belief in something higher. He felt touched, and “it showed me that the divine has a plan and a purpose for us and loves us very much.”
The performance showed a “constant theme of harmony amongst the people with the divine,” he said.
Reporting by Tim Gebhart, Yiran Chen, Mary Zhang, 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.