Witnessing Beauty Through Shen Yun
With its final performance on May 10 at Pittsburg’s Benedum Centre for the Performing Arts receiving resounding applause, Shen Yun Performing Arts concluded its extensive 2017 international tour.
The New York-based classical Chinese dance and music company gives audiences the opportunity to experience 5,000 years of an ancient civilization through dramatic music and dance.
The hundreds of sold-out shows during the tour gave theatregoers around the globe a chance to witness the Middle Kingdom come to life, with the colorful costumes and digital backdrops transporting them to mountaintop vistas, celestial kingdoms, underwater worlds, and splendid gardens.
Atoll Willoughby, OAM, former Australian ballet dancer and a renowned senior examiner who came to see Shen Yun for the fourth time, joked that “he can’t stand the fact that [Shen Yun performers ] are so perfect.”
“I couldn’t believe the perfection and the eye to detail …, it really comes out in the performances. The technique is flawless, really it is,” Mr. Willoughby said.
Fellow Australian and multi-award-winning fashion designer Jason Grech, was delighted to experience the wonder of Shen Yun, especially with all the colors used in Shen Yun’s handmade costumes.
“[Shen Yun costumes] were something I would certainly not forget. The color, the amount of silk in the circle skirts and the detailing … was the stand out for me,” Mr. Grech said.
Coming to see Shen Yun also for the fourth time, three-time Emmy Award-winning actress Jean Smart said every year she is amazed at how graceful yet strong the female Shen Yun dancers are, and how athletic yet graceful the male dancers are.
“It’s just astonishing,” Ms. Smart said. “It’s superb. The amount of work that goes into it, the amount of practice, is mind boggling.”
Actor, comedian, and author Tim Allen, star of the ABC television show “Home Improvement” and several motion pictures, said he loved Shen Yun, and enjoyed the spiritual themes in the performance.
“I love [the spiritual aspect of the performance]…It brought a big smile to my face,” he said.
“Supernatural” star Misha Collins, who saw Shen Yun in Los Angeles, admired the level of precision and art in the performance, saying that he and his children enjoyed the performance very much.
“The level of precision and expertise that goes into the work and the amount of practice and refinement in it is totally on another level from my own level of perfection,” Mr. Collins said.
U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who took his children to Shen Yun, thought the performance was inspiring.
“I am very happy that my children have had a chance to see this, because it also opens up their understanding of what’s in the hearts of good Chinese and good Asian people,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.
Ontario, California, mayor Paul Leon said he couldn’t even find the words to describe Shen Yun.
“All I can tell you is that if I had to choose a show that I would bring everybody I know to, this is it,” Mr. Leon said.
Jeanne d’Hauteserre, a Paris-district mayor, said if more people adopted the “philosophy presented in this show,” the world would be a better place.
“I was there during the attack on the Champs-Elysées. [Shen Yun] makes me think that if everyone could adopt this philosophy of life, there would be fewer problems of living together and fewer problems when each one accepts the other with a certain tolerance,” Ms. d’Hauteserre said.
Carlos Gardels, a concert pianist and professor at Citrus College, who saw Shen Yun in Long Beach, California, enjoyed Shen Yun’s unique orchestra which combines traditional Chinese instruments with classical Western ones, saying he thought the coordination of the orchestra and the dances on stage was “flawlessly done.”
“Today everyone is on their smart phones all the time, and attention span is so low; so when you’re presented with any kind of art form, it kind of rips your unconscious and [brings] it to another level, another spiritual dimension,” Mr. Gardels said.
“You’re not used to this really, really large scale effort of dancers and musicians and [visual artists] and choreographers to work that hard, so that’s really, really interesting. I think people will benefit from that in the future.”
Terry Graham, corporate manager at Chevron and Phillips, came to see Shen Yun for a second year in a row.
“It’s just an inspirational thing for me. I just enjoyed it. It’s just so well done and … so wholesome,” said Mr. Graham. “They’re sharing a tradition that’s many years older than the United States, so that’s what I enjoyed. I enjoy coming every year that they have this show.”
Neil Gratton, senior director of operations and engineering at the broadcasting and cable television giant Comcast Corporation, enjoyed the cultural aspect of Shen Yun.
“It was wonderful. It was a great cast of dancers …. Precision, timing, everything was really great,” he said. “It’s a great place to take the family.”
Dr. Lee Soon Lim, chairperson of the Korean Dance Cultural Research Institution and a dance troupe director, was amazed with the talent of the Shen Yun artists performing the difficult movements of classical Chinese dance.
“Classical Chinese dances’ movements, such as flips and jumps are very difficult, but Shen Yun dancers perform such difficult movements very skillfully and beautifully,” she said.
Peter Kent, a Canadian Member of Parliament and a former federal cabinet minister, saw great values presented in the performance.
“Values of tolerance and compassion and truthfulness, good and evil—I think this entire program inspires people to think of traditional values,” Mr. Kent said.
Alexandre Orloff, CEO of Swiss Dragons Management who saw the performance in Geneva, found Shen Yun “a great pleasure for the soul.” Mr. Orloff is a descendant of the famed Orloff family who served the Russian czars, from his father’s side, and is the son of Princess Fadia, the daughter of the last king of Egypt, King Farouk.
“It was very important for me to come here tonight with my family, with my children, to show them the ancient culture, the Chinese culture, which we know very little about here in Europe,” Mr. Orloff said.
Heidi Harmon, mayor of San Luis Obispo, California, said she has never seen anything like Shen Yun.
“It’s amazing. I’ve really never seen anything like it. I was so impressed with both the high level of dance and also the … spiritual message that [they] are bringing,” Ms. Harmon said.
Colombian Senator Alfredo Rangel Suárez, who saw Shen Yun in Bogotá, said he hopes “millions of Colombians” will watch Shen Yun.
“[There are only a] few times can one appreciate so much beauty in dance, so much musical beauty. With a great amount of philosophy incorporated into this dance and music, I think this is absolutely unique,” he said.
Prominent actress Lee Meriwether was amazed with Shen Yun, saying that she was “aghast at the brilliance of this production.”
The performances of Shen Yun’s vocalists, who use the bel canto style to sing Chinese lyrics, particularly stood out to Ms. Meriwether.
“[The soprano’s] voice was just so ethereal. It was so beautiful,” she said. “Her singing brought me right to the lyrics [translated in English on the backdrop], and it was just beautiful to listen to.”
Kimber Eastwood, film producer and make-up artist, and daughter of actor and filmmaker Clint Eastwood, loved the spiritual aspects of Shen Yun.
“I don’t think there’s enough spirituality in the world with so much going on, so I think that it’s beautiful message [when] the Buddha comes down and got this incredibly gorgeous gold aura around him. It just brings you back to some spirituality, to what I think is lost and forgotten … these days,” Ms. Eastwood said.
“It just has such a beautiful message about how goodness, and love, and patience overcome evil and nastiness.”
Prominent film editor Richard Harris, who has worked on major productions such as “True Lies,” “The Bodyguard,” “Terminator 2,” and “Titanic,” for which he won an Oscar, found Shen Yun to be “a great production.”
“I just love the dancers. They’re incredible,” Mr. Harris said. “The movements are very smooth. It’s like they’re on ice, they move so smoothly.”
Scott Harris, assistant principal bass for the Virginia Symphony, praised Shen Yun’s orchestra for its unique combination of classical Western and traditional Chinese instruments.
“Very fine choreography, very fine musicianship, very fine artistry. Really moving experience,” Mr. Harris said.
“What I found unique about Shen Yun was the blending of Chinese instruments and the Western instruments we are so used to hearing in the symphony orchestra. And the combination was very, very pleasing.”
Nanci Hersh, executive director of the Delaware Institute of Arts, said Shen Yun transports the audience “to another time, to another place,” like great art is supposed to do.
“I think it’s also very relevant today because I think people need to find the beauty in our world today and this is a great way to do it,” she said.
Brigadier General and Wartime Chief of Staff Hector Lopez said he and his wife were very inspired by watching Shen Yun.
“We definitely love [Shen Yun]. It was a very emotional experience. It was not just entertaining, but at the same time it has a message. And definitely, I believe we become better people just by watching and witnessing this, and being part of the soul of China,” he said.
Jack McLaren, an Ontario, Canada Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP), saw Shen Yun for the fourth time, with is wife in Ottawa.
“We enjoyed it very much tonight. My wife, Janet, was here with me and it was a wonderful show. We enjoyed the music, the dancing, the beautiful costumes, and it’s different every year. I always learn something new,” he said.
Fellow MPP Paul Miller, who has seen Shen Yun three times, found Shen Yun a beautiful and culturally rich performance.
“It takes you through time and divine intervention. It shows the persecution that went on and people’s differences and different ways of doing things,” Mr. Miller said. “They are trying to express the culture of China the way it used to be.”
Guy Bélanger, conductor, tenor, opera director, composer, and the founder of Opéra de Québec, thought the Shen Yun conductor “did a magnificent job.” He also praised the content and themes in Shen Yun performances.
“It’s a period where we’re searching for answers. [Shen Yun] brings an extremely interesting angle,” he said.
“In all cultures, we’re asking where things go in life and death. … Shen Yun shows there’s a light, there’s hope. … It’s good that the producers take on these profound questions. It’s good to remind ourselves in a very artistic way.”
Carlos Duarte, chairman of Spain’s National Council for Culture and Arts praised the beauty of the performance.
“It’s fascinating—the choreography, the subtlety, the beauty, the gentleness of the images, which are really touching.”
Watching Shen Yun for the sixth time, Fan Sun-Lu, director general of the Education Bureau in Kaohsiung City Government, Taiwan, said she will watch Shen Yun every time it comes to Kaohsiung.
“[Shen Yun] has revived the essence of the [traditional Chinese] culture in the modern world; therefore, I think all students and parents who love arts should see Shen Yun to get some inspiration.”