PHILADELPHIA—”It’s a wonderful show. It was my first time to see this but it won’t be my last.” These were the first words from retired photographer, John Woods, after seeing Shen Yun Performing Arts at Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater on May 9.
New York-based Shen Yun often elicits high praise from a broad range of fields in society. The company was formed after more than 60 years of communist rule, which nearly decimated traditional culture in China. It was established with the mission “of reviving 5,000 years of divinely inspired Chinese culture,” according to its website. Dancers proficient in classical Chinese dance and adorned with colorful- handcrafted costumes, perform accompanied by digital backdrops and a unique orchestra that melds classical Western and traditional Chinese instruments.
“This will be the first of many,” Mr. Woods said. “I’m very glad the shows are new each year … it’s terrific.”
“The colors, the precision was incredible,” he added. “We are all also photographers, so for me seeing those incredible backdrops was just amazing. I really enjoyed it.
Classical Chinese dance involves a broad range of movements, postures, and difficult tumbling and jumping techniques, according to Shen Yun’s website. “And so, alongside ballet, classical Chinese dance is one of the most comprehensive dance systems in the world.”
Mr. Woods expressed awe at the high level of dancing.
“There were so many different moves—some that I had never seen before. It was very complex … and sophisticated.”
Different stories and legends from the rich culture are brought to life on stage. Mr. Woods especially enjoyed How the Monkey King Came to Be, a dance that shows the birth and first adventure of “the central character in China’s classic novel Journey to the West,” according to Shen Yun’s program. The Monkey King creates trouble but ultimately becomes a guard for a monk on a sacred journey.
“I liked that someone who didn’t start in the best of circumstances, and who may have been a problem once in his life, transformed and became such a force for good,” Mr. Woods said, adding that he found all “the stories were enchanting.”
Shen Yun’s orchestra “seamlessly blend[s]” the seemingly “disparate sounds of East and West,” states the company’s website. Violins, trumpets, and other instruments form the foundation—a Western philharmonic orchestra—while traditional Chinese instruments—such as the dizi, or bamboo flute—lead the melodies.
“I loved the mixture of the eastern instruments and the western instruments together,” said Mr. Woods. “It was very good.”
The overall theme of an underlying battle between good and evil, shown from the dawn of civilization up to the present, resonated with Mr. Woods.
“There’s not this black and white kind of dichotomy that there is in Western thinking about good and evil,” he said. “It is just part of the fabric of life. And it is to be transcended.”
“It seems to me that there’s a very noticeable difference between Western notions of good and evil and what I saw in the performance tonight,” he said. “And that is that evil is part of living, and the issue is how to rise above—how to transcend the evil.
“But there’s not this black and white kind of dichotomy that there is in Western thinking about good and evil. It is just part of the fabric of life, and it is to be transcended,” he added. “I just thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Reporting by Hannah Cai and Zachary Stieber
Shen Yun Performing Arts, based in New York, has three touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world, with a mission to revive traditional Chinese culture. The season concludes this month with performances in Philadelphia, Honolulu, San Antonio, and Buffalo.
For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org.
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