This month, Shen Yun Performing Arts brings its gorgeous dance and music to The Orpheum Theatre. Based upon Chinese culture, history, and traditions that date back millennia, the show is a rich pageantry of luminous costumes, graceful dancers, strikingly scaled backdrops, and live music that bridges East and West. Chinese civilization is steeped in the idea that humanity and the divine are intertwined. In context, Shen Yun translates as "the beauty of divine beings dancing." We asked Jason Wang — spokesperson for Shen Yun and director of the nonprofit New Times Center for Cultural Education — to tell us more about these unique performances scheduled for Saturday, February 26th, at 2 and 8 p.m.
How are classical and folk and ethnic Chinese dancing different from Western dance?
Classical Chinese dance has a vast training system and is a dance form still mostly new to the West. It carries the essence of Chinese cultural
expression in its movements, postures, and aesthetics. In its early years, it was passed down primarily in the imperial court and as part of ancient theater. In modern times, its training was systematized to include elements like barre and center work. The unique art form of classical Chinese dance that we know today, with its impressive scale and systematic training, is the product of generations of artistic experience and continual refining.
How much training and preparation is required of a Shen Yun performer?
The dancers and musicians train for approximately eight hours a day — every day, all year long — not only with basic training but also preparing for each performance piece.
Shen Yun mixes Eastern and Western styles of music and instruments. Why is it important for the artistic presentation to combine the two?
Chinese classical music and Western classical music are two of the world's most important musical traditions. Bringing out the quintessence
of each while presenting a unified theme is one of the distinct features of Shen Yun's compositions. As the music is written for different dance numbers, the composers fully appraise how to best echo the local traits and flavor. To get the ethnic style and characteristics just right, there's nothing better than using Chinese instruments like the dizi, erhu, pipa, and so on. Their quality is closely tied to the philosophy that all things have a spirit. In Chinese music, this means that every note is alive.
In past years, you've examined themes of justice, ethnic identity, and spiritual belief under communist rule. What are some themes that the Memphis audience can expect to see?
In a collection of short pieces, audiences may travel from the Himalayas to tropical lake-filled regions. They may sit in on a school of mischievous monks, or follow a journey of the famous Chinese legend of the Monkey King. The theme of each show is the revival of traditional true Chinese culture by portraying through classical dance the history of what China once was with all its beauty, diversity, spirit, and color and what it has become today. Shen Yun artists immerse themselves in both worlds through sometimes painstaking research in order to portray each story as authentically and realistically as they can.
To depict practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement — who have lived under the cloud of a state-sponsored persecution since 1999 — principal dancer Michelle Ren sought out a Falun Gong prisoner to ask her about her experience. Shen Yun is one of the only performance groups in the world that dares to give artistic treatment to the modern-day issues of freedom of belief inside China today.
What do you hope the Memphis audience will draw from these performances?
The performances are, in their essence, about universal principles of traditional Chinese culture, such as spirituality, integrity, loyalty, compassion, and strength of spirit. We hope these qualities, as demonsrated in dance, will leave audiences with a sense of joy and strong hope for the future.
For more information go to ShenYunPerformingArts.org.