JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—On a path of artistic excellence, from an ancient culture full of enchantment and mystery, all the way to Jacksonville, Florida, by way of New York City’s Lincoln Center: This journey describes Shen Yun Performing Arts, which takes legend-strewn China as its homeland of cultural origin. But it is also the path taken by a special member of Shen Yun’s audience who attended at the Thrasher-Horne Center on Feb. 22, 2020: Egyptian-born ballet dancer Sarwat Kaluby who, as a young man, became a professional ballet dancer and choreographer under the tutelage of Russia’s illustrious Bolshoi Ballet and Kirov Theatre.
“I used to dance at the Metropolitan Opera House and Lincoln Center, and I have my own dance studios here in town,” said Kaluby, who trained with Mikhail Baryshnikov and has danced at the Paris Opera House, with Britain’s Royal Ballet, with the New York City Ballet, and with American Ballroom Theater.
“I loved [Shen Yun], I loved it,” Kaluby said, after the performance. “Great dancers, great technique, wonderful artists. The choreography is fantastic and the music is wonderful.”
After a career as a globe-trotting professional dancer, Kaluby is now a dance studio owner, ballroom dance choreographer, championship event organizer and competition adjudicator. He gave New York-based Shen Yun high praise for its dancers’ technique and the way that element combined with other artistic components in the performance.
“It’s really fabulous, I enjoyed it very much. The ladies are so graceful, and the costumes are just making the movements even—it echoes more, just grander than what the movement is. So the combination of the costumes that they wear for the dynasties and the movement—very, very interesting. It’s quite lovely actually,” Kaluby said.
Shen Yun’s mission is to revive traditional Chinese culture through riveting art forms such as classical Chinese dance, bel canto vocal performances, live orchestral music, and more.
The soul of China’s authentic culture is widely regarded as a divinely-inspired one and has always been deeply spiritual, since time immemorial. It’s this spiritual component that Shen Yun’s artists feel is so crucial to the revival of the culture, and is seen throughout a Shen Yun performance, in story themes, song lyrics, and characters portrayed.
Kaluby was touched by this aspect of the performance.
“I think the spiritual part is great, it speaks to everybody,” he said. “I think there are more spiritual people today than it used to. And there are many different ways of expressing themselves, and ultimately it leads to one direction, which is a higher being. And this is great, this is great. It speaks to everybody.”
A few of Shen Yun’s roughly 20 vignettes depict followers of a spiritual discipline, Falun Dafa, who are persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) today but who respond to the brutality with compassion, perseverance, and faith. In the end, good is rewarded by heaven and evil is punished in these stories in accordance with long-held Chinese wisdom.
Kaluby found a meaningful message in these storytelling dances. “Very interesting, very interesting. It’s quite what you see today and what people strive to do. You see the good ones and the bad ones and kind of the struggle between both of them and I think ultimately the goods win. Good people win always,” he said.
The CCP’s ongoing persecution is part of a campaign to wipe out the ancient spiritual culture of China. The regime even attempts to interfere with Shen Yun’s performances around the world. But Shen Yun has persisted in its mission to revive the almost-lost civilization, a feat Kaluby thinks “is a great thing … because it’s really, if there are no people trying to revive the history, the history will be forgotten. And it’s very important, that, really [Shen Yun’s] work—that everybody sees it, that everybody hear it.”
“It’s sad that if this particular style and cultures disappear, so keeping it alive is very, very important for all the new generation that have never seen such a thing. I believe it’s an important part,” he added.
The expert performer and choreographer picked up on something very special about Shen Yun that its artists hope to express to their audiences: an intangible positive energy.
Kaluby described the feeling of watching Shen Yun as “very serene.”
“It puts you at ease. It puts you in a whole different level of feeling. It’s not your daily activities. It’s very calming. It has quite a lot of serenity around it. There’s no other word I can think of.”
“Throughout history,” Shen Yun’s website states, “almost every culture looked toward the divine for inspiration. Art was meant to uplift, bringing joy to both the people who created and experienced it. It is this principle that drives Shen Yun performers and their art.”
The Chinese phrase Shen Yun translates to “the beauty of divine beings dancing” in English, and Kaluby certainly felt it is an apt description of Shen Yun’s dancers themselves. “Yes, yes there is no doubt about that, there are no doubts about that,” Kaluby said.
“Well, everything that they do is really—the movement itself, it comes from the heart, from inside, and it’s all expressed outward. And it’s not a small movement, it’s really grand. And I enjoyed it, I really enjoyed it a lot. The ladies are really just fabulous, they’re really fabulous dancers, I have to say. Their technique is enormous, their artist[ry] is fabulous. And even the use of their arms, and feet, their extensions, their leaps are just amazing. Whether it’s ladies or men, they’re all just equally impressive, just impressive,” Kaluby said.
In addition to their grueling training schedule, Shen Yun’s artists practice Falun Dafa, the ancient spiritual discipline that consists of moral principles and energy-strengthening exercises. They cite this practice as a great source of inspiration and artistry, as well as a foundation for their dancer’s accomplishments.
“I can tell you their practice definitely shows. There is no doubt,” Kaluby asserted. “There is nobody in this whole company that came on that stage that has not put time. Growing up putting on practice, hours and hours every single day, six days a week, of nine hours a day, I believe these guys are doing more than that. And really it shows. It’s just fabulous.”
The international dance devotee hoped to take in Shen Yun again one day, and expressed his appreciation to each of the dancers, asking that his message be passed on directly to them.
“It’s so impressive. I hope to see you again and I’d love to meet each and every one of you. But it’s very impressive. Thank you so much for the performance and thanks for coming to Jacksonville,” Kaluby said.
With reporting by NTD Television and Brett Featherstone.
The Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time and has covered audience reactions since the company’s inception in 2006.