GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—Despite the beauty of the Shen Yun Performing Arts performance on the first night of its Midwest tour, its audience felt a tinge of sadness: They learned that the traditional Chinese music and dance company cannot perform in Mainland China.
Located in New York, Shen Yun’s mission is to revive the essence of traditional Chinese culture, long considered a divinely inspired culture. Mainland China today is ruled by the officially atheist Chinese Communist Party, which has spent decades dismantling the culture—including its performing arts—that took millennia to build.
“It made me sad to think that [classical Chinese dance is] not practiced in China itself. But I’m so glad that there’s a group in New York City that’s bringing it back because it’s just lovely. And it would be really tragic if it wasn’t out there for the world to see because it’s just gorgeous,” said Mary Evans, a retired registered nurse, who attended DeVos Performance Hall with her husband, Jerry, a physician, on Jan. 14, 2020.
“To know that thousands of years that have been in that culture, it’s sad that it’s suppressed now,” Mr. Evans said.
Shen Yun tours the globe every year, this year adding a seventh company, and brings artistic expressions of ancient China to the world. With totally new choreography, costumes, digital backdrops, and music each year, audiences are treated to nearly 20 separate performances that tell of age-old customs, bits of history, and profound legends of the country once known as the Celestial Kingdom.
If not for Shen Yun, Mr. Evans would have missed a song by a soprano Min Jiang, whose lyrics “were very moving.” They speak of impending salvation.
If not for Shen Yun, Mrs. Evans would have missed the energy of the all-male Mongolian dance. She enjoyed seeing them bring to life the horse culture, which “came through in the dance.”
It is not only Shen Yun that is barred from China, but some spiritual practices as well. Mr. Evans said: “I think the persecution of those who practice religions that the government doesn’t believe [in] is very sad. We’ve heard a lot about persecutions of the Christians and many other religions there, and it’s just so sad to see that.”
Yet the couple believes Shen Yun’s mission is important to salvage this culture. Mr. Evans said it’s wonderful that this traditional culture could be expressed here in the freedom of the United States.
“It would just be such a huge loss to mankind, I think, to not have it out there for us to see,” Mrs. Evans said.
“I think it will come back, and this is part of that,” Mr. Evans said.
‘Simple and Clean’
Also in the Grand Rapids audience were the Damstra family: Randy, a private investor, his wife Julie, an artist, and Leah their daughter, of Asian ancestry, who attends high school.
The Damstra family concentrated mostly on the aesthetics of the performance.
Leah gave the costumes a 10 out of 10 rating, Mrs. Damstra enjoyed the music, and Mr. Damstra noted the “elegant athleticism” of the dancers, as he called it.
The dances were “simple and clean,” he said.
Mrs. Damstra elaborated on her husband’s thought. “I think they make the point really well, too, that you know, it takes us to a time that has come from a lot of simplicity—that’s really beautiful.
“And [from the] divine, I think they would say, in the show,” she said.
“I think it’s a reflection of the values that they have in their culture, in the [ancient] Chinese culture. It’s religious in the sense that it has this deep meaning of life and love for the land,” Mr. Damstra said.
In order to present a culture steeped in divine inspiration, Shen Yun artists find inspiration in their personal spiritual connections. It is their “motivation for striving to excel, is the heart behind each movement of the dancer and each note of the musician,” as Shen Yun’s website states.
As for that divine aspect, “I think that’s so built in all of us. It’s showing something that we all have in us,” Mrs. Damstra said.
With reporting by NTD Television and Sharon Kilarski.