This Saturday past, I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful cultural performance called Shen Yun at the art center in the next town over. The tickets were my mother’s gift to my father on his annual celebration last month. Given how the art center was not located in The City, I originally planned to wear a cocktail frock. My father was displeased by the notion, so I scrambled to devise another ensemble and take leave in a half hour. I must say I am quite pleased with the results! I pinned a broach on to the collar of my gown and wove a pin to a clamp in my hair. The bracelet was courtesy of My Suitor and my purse was a gift from Mlle A during Christmastide. The effect was a bit more modern than I anticipated, but I was just happy to be presentable.
Shen Yun, which, is loosely translated to mean the divine beauty expressed through the subtlest gestures of the dancers. The company was formed in New York city in 2006. Most of the performers are not from China; incidentally they are from Taiwan, but they are all Asian . . . Every year the company constructs an entire new program to “revive 5,000 years of civilization.” The performance Shen Yun consisted of eight and ten dance numbers and four operatic pieces. There was just so much to take in! It was truly an overload for the senses. The music of the live orchestra, conducted by an English woman, no less, incorporated various Chinese instruments. Of course, the costumes were sumptuous! Very flowing and graceful.
The lithe dancers were so exquisite! Most of the dance numbers were either a group piece or story telling vignette. There was a host of silliness at the end of many scenes. The female dancers had this dainty way of walking; heel-toe, heel-toe, in very short steps. They seemed to float across the stage, but there heads were level the entire time. It was very charming. I have yet to attempt this in the privacy of my home. There is also a type of spinning move associated with Chinese dance. It is not completely vertical, but somewhat bent so the head is parallel to the viewer, as are the arms; the legs kick out with bent knees. . . It is . . . Oh! It is so difficult to describe! If you witness such a move it does not look terribly challenging, but there is definitely a skill to it.
The set was novelty. It was a computer generated image made to appear as if it were a painting. Many of the dancers interacted with the screen that responded in turn. For instance when a gentleman struck the “river” with his stick to scare away the fish, it made an enormous SPLASH! at the precise point the prop struck the screen. The most common interaction was some character flying in. This is very typical of Chinese culture/fantasy. Similar to the acclaimed film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon many years ago. Flying people are part of the culture of fairy tales, myth, and epic adventures in China, as much as demure princesses and galant knights and sword play are to the Western image. In the performance the screen shows a person flying off the moon to the lower edge of the screen and suddenly the live person would pop up at the precise point. It was very entertaining and did not get tiresome throughout the show.
The inspiration came from various locations, time, and religions from the China. I found the most moving dances to be the story telling pieces from contemporary China during the student demonstrations. The other emotional moments were the four operatic singers and their accompaniment. While the songs were sung in Mandarin, the words were printed on the screen/landscape behind them in both English and Chinese. The singing was Western operatic and dissimilar than what is considered Chinese opera singing with many short high notes/words. The most exotic and by far my favorite dance numbers of the night were the Mongolian Bowl Dance. Twenty females came out walking in their pretty way with Chinese soup bowls balancing on their heads. At first I thought it was a prop sewn on to the top of their hair decor, but I was incorrect. Between the shoulder shaking, leg raises, and twirls, the would occasionally remove the bowl from their head and set it on their foreheads as they bent themselves backwards to the floor on their knees. This entire dance was inspired by the original Welcome Dance of the traditional Mongolians. The posture needed for this four-minute pieces is enviable! The other piece was titled An Early Spring, where again, many females came out in long shorts and sleeveless shirts, twirling vibrant pink and green handkerchiefs. It was nothing like anything I have seen before. I was quite delighted and curious how they spun these swaths of fabric as if spinning plates, from the middle point of the square. The dance is symbolic of the blooming cherry tree. They even tossed the handkerchief up in the air similar to a frisbee throw and twirled and danced underneath, until they fabric descended and they caught it without looking. Most impressive! All this to the a jaunty little tune with sweet delicate smiles. Oh how I applauded so much at the end! It was wonderfully different! The company tours around the nation every year, if you have the chance do arrange to purchase your tickets the first chance you can!