This blog may be a bit lengthy, as I was completely in awe of this experience.
Last year for our anniversary, The Dane and I went to Atlanta to the Chinese Lantern Festival (see the blog here). At the festival, we saw a Chinese chengdu face-changing dance. It was simply amazing. This dance started an interest for us in Chinese culture.
This year while planning for events for our 10th anniversary, The Dane ran across an ad in the paper for an upcoming performance of Shen Yun. We discussed it and watched the trailers. It wasn’t long before we had decided that tickets for this performance would be our anniversary gift to each other.
The day of the performance, I was very excited. It was like that feeling you get as a child on Christmas Eve, or the night before you’re about to leave for Disney. Throughout the day, I sort of wondered what kind of dances we might see. My imagination ran wild, but simply didn’t touch the experience of the actual presentation.
We arrived early and made our way to the theater along with 100’s of others. The excitement was pretty evident in those around us. One lady told me that she had seen previous performances, but had heard that this one would be even better. Once in our seats, it seemed like a short wait before the show started. We chatted with our neighbors, each of us trying to switch seats to be sure that our heads weren’t blocking the view of those behind us and laughing because we were all going to have to sit in funny positions so that we had the best views. We had to take a few quick selfies, as there was no photography allowed during the show (I’m actually glad about that, it would have ruined the performance if flashes had been constantly going off).
The lights dimmed and the show opened with a stage filled with dry ice and dancers sitting on stage, it gave the effect of angles sitting on clouds. The dance began and I forgot all about the audience around me. I was busy studying the gracefulness of their synchronized movements and the trail of the sleeves on their costumes. The bright pink flowers stood out against the mist and by the end of the performance, I understood that we had started in heaven, where the dancers were awaiting the arrival of the Creator. Before the end, it appeared that all of them had descended into a more earthly realm.
As the curtains closed, a man dressed in a sharp suit and a beautiful woman dressed in a white gown that flowed into various shades of orange walked onto the edge of the stage. They introduced the next dance by alternating from Chinese to English. As they spoke, I realized that the name of the first dance was in the program and was entitled, “From Heaven to Save All.” From the first dance on, these two would introduce each dance and give the audience brief information about what we were about to see. A few times, there was longer commentary, which I’ll discuss as I go along.
“Tang Dynasty Training Ground.” In this dance, the Emperor Tang Taizong trains a troop. The dance included bronze shields which the performers integrated into the dance in a very unique way that seem effortless and fluid.
The next dance was my favorite. It was called “Han Dynasty Sleeves,” but I misunderstood the announcers and thought that the name of the dance was “Sleeves from Heaven.” I have never witnessed anything like this dance in my life. The women come out onto the stage with the sleeves of their dresses looking slightly longer than their wrists. The hem looked like a white flower inside pink petals. At just the right moment, each of the dancers swirled and the sleeves grew longer and longer. At the stop of the dance, they gracefully gathered the length back into the sleeve. I cannot stress the elegance in which they gathered these sleeves back. It was like watching a blooming flower in backwards time-lapse photography. The sleeves bloomed and unbloomed throughout the performance and each time, I would try to figure out the movement they used to gather them back in, but they did this with such quick finesse that there was no way to tell. Perhaps that was the beautiful mystery of this dance. While watching, I thought about what the announcer had said, “In Falun Dafa, beings come from heaven to earth. While here they try to do good to get back to heaven. It is believed that these are the sleeves on the garments in heaven.” (Watch this sleeve dance and see if you can tell how they do it-around the 0:57 mark).
“Monkey Battles Warlock.” This one was a very close second for my favorite. In each of the performances, a stage wide video monitor stood in the background showing various backdrops – a temple, a garden, tunnels and doors. In this dance, the background became interactive with the performers on stage. It was totally unexpected and something that I have never seen. It was so seamless. The brochure we received states that this digital/performance integration is a patent belonging to Shen Yun. It is unlikely that you will see this kind of performance anywhere else for some time. This alone is reason to see this performance, but definitely not the only reason.
“The Hmong Ethnic Dance-In the Mountains.” This dance had the performers wearing spoons. The movement in this dance was quite different from in the others. Most of the dances flowed with grace. At times in this one, the movements reminded me of what it would look like if cloggers were trying to do ballet. However, it was very charming to watch.
“In A Modern Temple.” This one was based on the prophesy that demons would reincarnate as monks and take over modern temples to destroy religion inside out. The story is played out by two bad little boys who decide to disguise themselves as monks in order to steal a donation box. A childlike monk saves the day and shows that heroes can reside in the most unlikely of people. The antics in this one lighten the heavy message and make it a lot of fun to watch.
“Elegance in the Middle Kingdom.” This dance incorporated Chinese handheld fans. I’ve had a fascination with Chinese fans for a while now. I knew that they were often used as a canvas for art, but didn’t understand that they are intended to denote purity and grace.
“Unprecedented Crime.” Up until this point, for the most part, the performances were elegant and inspired that part in my soul that appreciates beauty. The commentary before this performance changed that in a way. I’ll do my best to explain. The overarching theme of Shen Yun was to show a revived Classical Chinese dance. China has a very long history. The brochure says that it is five-thousand-years-old. It is difficult to believe that these traditional forms of dance need to be revived, as they all seem so – here I’m at a loss for words, I want to say fresh and new, but it’s more than that – they seem both ancient and brand new at the same time. The commentators told us that this story is based on “true events” happening in China today. A young man, a practitioner of Falun Dafa, is arrested for his faith by the Communist Party, who fears this religion. They told us that Shen Yun itself is not allowed to be performed in China. It seems so strange that Americans can so freely go to this performance, yet those in China, whom these very dances belong to, cannot. That they are not allowed to practice their religion without fear of being arrested and far worse, gave me great pause and food for thought. It was a difficult, though necessary story to tell.
“Heaven Awaits.” Perhaps there was an understanding from the producers that the audience would need a bit of a break after the previous dance. In the next segment, Qu Yue, baritone, sang a song for us in Chinese. A translation of his words flowed on the screen. It is a religious song. For me, it gave me a pretty good idea of some of the Falun Dafa beliefs – the Creater will come to renew all things, the universe will last forever, those beings that came from the divine to earth will return to heaven in divine form, humans are consumed with their daily lives, The Great Way is finally being taught again and the truth is being shown, and finally, the gates of Heaven are open, but not for long.
“Lofty Spirits on the Grasslands.” This was one of The Danes favorites. In this one, Mongolians come from their yurts bearing chopsticks and begin to dance. For me, this dance was distinctly male. The movements were very different from anything else we’d seen. Later, when reading the brochure, I realized why the movements were so distinct. The gestures were vigorous to imitate soaring eagles and galloping stallions. They did this all while making music with bundles of chopsticks. It was an amazing presentation.
At this point, we were given a 15 minutes intermission. I have to admit that I needed the breather. The auditorium filled with chatter as people discussed what they’d seen over the course of the last hour or so. We heard bits of conversation as we made our way to the lobby. Everyone seemed delighted, including us. In the center of the lobby, a table had been set up. I didn’t approach (it was very crowded), but I did see a rather large, unique shaped handkerchief. For a brief moment, I wondered what that had to do with the show (boy, let me tell you! Except you’ll have to wait for it).
During this time, we sort of bumped into the Shen Yun poster. A friend took our picture and then I returned the favor. Afterwards, I became the photographer for several others (if you’re reading this, I hope your pictures turned out great). I actually had a lot of fun getting couples to smile!
The announcers were back. This time, our lady had on a green, strapless gown. She was quite stunning.
“A Touch of Paradise.” This performance included another kind of garment with long-draping sleeves that were very prevalent in the Tang Dynasty.
“Devotion.” This was another one that was quite difficult to watch. A young girl chooses a suitor to wed that her father feels is beneath her station in life. She chooses him because he is kind rather than wealthy. As a result, her father disowns her. Destitute, they go to live in a cave. Just as they settle in, the husband is taken into military service and is gone from his wife for 18 years. After his years of service, he comes back to the cave to find his wife waiting for him. The name of this dance is aptly named.
“Buffoonery in the Schoolyard.” This one is about a group of boys goofing around in school. They do all manner of stupid things (including farting). I laughed several times during this one and the ending was perfect.
“Ladies of the Qing Dynasty.” The ladies danced in “flower-pot” shoes, similar to these.
“Archery in Another Dimension.” Normally, you wouldn’t think of archery and dancing as something that would go together, but this little story was quite fun to watch. This was another of the stories that integrated the digital with the dancers in a unique way.
“Ancient Melody” performed by Lu Sun, Erhu, sang.
“Awakening.” A warrior is struck with remorse for all the killing he has done. He decides to become a monk and this dance is his journey. In this one, there are a few dancers that have to stand still for an extended amount of time. Not once did I see them move, it didn’t even appear that they were breathing, so when they came to life, it was quite breath-taking.
“Soaring Handkerchiefs.” See, there was a reason they were selling handkerchiefs in the lobby. The dancers did a lot of things with handkerchiefs that I never thought possible. Let’s see – they used them in a variety of ways including turning them into flowers and using them as airplanes. It was great fun watching this performance!
“Coming to Pass” performed by Min Jiang, Soprano.
“The Divine Renaissance Begins.” The finale of the night was another presentation regarding the current state of communist China. In this one, a teacher instills truth, compassion and tolerance in her students even though the outside world hums in chaos. A heavenly intervention occurs which appears to bring in a new era of hope. In this one, my emotions took many twists and turns.
At some point during the night, the announcers introduced the orchestra. They also told us that there was a mixture of Western instruments along with authentic Chinese instruments such as the erhu (which only has two strings and thought to be the only instrument that mimics the human voice) and pipa (a Chinese lute). The Shen Yun orchestra is the only one in the world that combines these instruments on a permanent basis.
I can’t recommend this highly enough, it was just fantastic.