BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom—A chance encounter in a shopping centre led primary school teacher Bernie Woollard to a magical night at the ICC Birmingham on April 15, where Shen Yun Performing Arts gave its final performance in the U.K.
After chatting to representatives at a promotional stand for the show, Mr. Woollard and his wife left with a leaflet in hand. “We walked just a little bit past and I said to my wife, you know what, we’ve got to see this, and we’re going to go back. We bought the best seat that we could afford, … [and] you know what, it’s worth every pound, every penny, every cent,” he said.
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts, through music and classical Chinese dance, “weaves a wondrous tapestry of heavenly realms, ancient legends, and modern heroic tales, taking you on a journey through 5,000 years of Chinese culture,” according to the company’s website.
“I loved the dancing, I loved the music, and the two combined was absolutely fantastic,” said Mr. Woollard.
“At the start when they had the drums playing, they were interacting with the dance—and the acrobatics!”
As well as training in the basic forms and postures, Shen Yun’s dancers are skilled in the leaps, flips, and spins that make classical Chinese dance one of the most expressive systems of dance in the world.
“The dancing was so thrilling and so lively and just the whole spectacle, including the interactive screen behind—it really brought it to life,” Mr. Woollard said, referring to the digital animated backdrop that is a signature of Shen Yun’s performances.
“It was just one fantastic event after another. You didn’t know what was going to happen next,” Mr. Woollard said.
Throughout the performances, the dancers use different props, including drums, fans, silk ribbons, and even chopsticks in beautifully synchronised patterns.
“I didn’t imagine they would do anything like that!” said Mr. Woollard about the ethnic dance “Mongolian Chopsticks” in which male dancers use bunches of chopsticks like percussion instruments, creating a crisp, “staccato beat that quickens the blood and stirs the heart,” according the Shen Yun programme book.
Mr. Woollard was also thrilled by the colour of the costumes, which are handmade especially for each dance.
Shen Yun’s two Masters of Ceremony give a little introduction to each piece in both English and Chinese, which Mr. Woollard thought was a nice touch.
“Rather than just accepting it as a spectacle, we got the little bit of story behind it, which made it so much more interesting,” he said.
After hearing that a performance of true traditional Chinese culture could not be seen in China today, Mr. Woollard was particularly touched by the number of Chinese people in the audience. “Seeing so many ethnic Chinese people in the audience really made it special for me,” he said. “I was sitting next to a young gentleman. He is from China. He is studying over in the U.K. at Birmingham University. … And he said it’s the best Chinese dancing he had ever seen!”
Overall, Mr. Woollard found the performance to be very uplifting. “It’s so positive, and optimistic, and lively. I don’t think you could have failed to be touched by it.”
He said that he was going to take the programme book to show his class of 8-9 year olds when school starts again after the holidays. “For them it’d be something new and hopefully, who knows, next year if Shen Yun comes back to Birmingham maybe one or two of them may persuade their mums and dads to take them.”
Shen Yun Performing Arts World Company goes on to Dublin’s Convention Centre for performances on April 19 and 20.
Reporting by NTD Television, Rosemary Byfield and Kat Piper