PEORIA, Ill.—Those who come from a very ancient culture themselves seem to feel a deep kinship with the 5,000 years of civilization Shen Yun presents, irrespective of what their own culture may be.
James Holley, the chief information security officer at Caterpillar, brought his family to the Peoria Civic Center on April 20 to see Shen Yun Performing Arts.
Mr. Holley is of Native American heritage; his family has been in America for thousands of years. “And so I appreciate that the Chinese culture is very, very old, and it is a culture to be understood and respected.”
“In my opinion, it is fantastic culture,” he said.
Through the universal languages of music and dance, New York-based Shen Yun aims to have the whole world understand and appreciate China’s traditional culture. It was based on the inherent connection between all things—the heavens, Earth and humankind, and, as such, honored principles such as truthfulness, courage, loyalty, and compassion.
However, more than half a century ago, communists took power and sought to upend age-old traditions and beliefs. For that reason, Shen Yun sees itself as working to save a culture on the brink of extinction, as its website states.
Based on audience feedback, Shen Yun seems to be wildly successful. The ancient legends, tales from literary classics, and stories from modern day China are principally told through an art form that itself developed over millennia: classical Chinese dance.
Classical Chinese dance is considered one of the most expressive dance forms in the world and serves a perfect vehicle for storytelling.
“You could tell what was happening even without dialogue, and that’s what made a performance powerful is that you know the story without anyone saying anything. … So just the dance, the facial expression, the movement, the poses—all of it—the choreography, and the costumes, told the story. It is wonderful, very, very good,” Mr. Holley said.
Mrs. Stacy Holley said that the family appreciated the very traditional dances the most: The terrifically exciting Mongolian drum dance, in which the male dancers pounded on paddle drums; the Manchurian court dance, showing the dainty elegance of court ladies in elaborate headdresses and “flower pot” shoes—shoes with heels in the middle of the soles—demonstrating their poise and balance; and “Tang Dynasty Grace,” which shows China’s golden age through costumes said to have been inspired by heavenly realms.
And it wasn’t just the dancing that told the stories: “There is nothing superfluous. Everything had a purpose [for] the story,” said Audra, Mr. Holley’s teenage daughter. “All the details combine to tell the story, help the narrative.”
Those other elements include all-original music composed specifically for each dance, and performed by an orchestra comprised of both Eastern and Western instruments; magical costumes that have dazzled audiences wherever Shen Yun’s four companies have traveled; and digitally animated backdrops that transport audiences from mountaintops to sea bottoms, from imperial courts to heavenly realms, and from an opening flower to the lady in the moon.
Unfortunately, the magic audiences feel watching Shen Yun cannot be experienced in China. In fact, the Chinese regime has tried to interfere with people seeing the cultural performance in theaters around the world, Shen Yun states.
But as Mr. Holley pointed out “There is a difference between the Chinese people and the Chinese government. There is a big difference.”
Caterpillar IT supervisor, Chidu Singanallur, felt much the same as Mr. Holley. Mr. Singanallur and wife also attended the one Peoria performance on April 20.
“I thought that was very brave of them to say what is happening in China,” Mr. Singanallur said, referring to the persecution that those practicing traditional faiths in China endure.
Mr. Singanallur is of Indian heritage. China, like India, has a very ancient culture and a very ancient history, he said, and the couple were enjoying learning about this ancient culture.
And that was easy to do, he said, because the stories were presented simply and were very easy to understand.
The whole performance, “it’s more than what I expected,” Mr. Singanallur said.
Reporting by Stacey Tang and Sharon Kilarski
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.