Shen Yun Performing Arts, a Chinese dance company, performs at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City from January 10-19, 2014. Formed in 2006, Shen Yun performs classical Chinese dance and brings ancient Chinese tradition to the performing arts across the globe.
Shen Yun Performing Arts, Manchurian Elegance © 2012 Shen Yun Performing Arts
Admittedly, I’m not Chinese, but when it comes to traditional Chinese culture—the food, the arts, the philosophies—you name it and I’m there. So it’s no surprise that every year I’m in attendance at Lincoln Center to watch Shen Yun Performing Arts. It’s often sold out, but what gets me most is the attentiveness of the children in the audience. This is by no means a “kids show,” but both my daughters (8 and 10) love it. It’s fun, thought provoking, and filled with compelling characters. The message is simple and accessible while being also touching and at times even profound.
Literally translated, shen yun is a Chinese term that means “the beauty of divine beings dancing.” Today, it also means an extraordinary performing arts company that embodies the beauty, virtue, and spiritual depth of China’s 5,000-year-old culture.
For millennia, China was known as “the Celestial Empire.” Myths and legends throughout history record that the Middle Kingdom was continually guided by celestial beings. But this ancient tradition has been all but completely destroyed. Today, where can you actually go to discover authentic Chinese culture?
Surprising enough, the answer is not China.
After more than 60 years of communist rule in China, and especially after the devastating Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, traditional Chinese culture has been all but lost there. But the deeper spiritual core of the ancient culture, with its values of benevolence, honor, propriety, and tolerance, lay deeply imbedded within the Chinese people.
In order to revive this traditional culture, a group of Chinese artists in New York established Shen Yun in 2006. The company quickly attracted talent from around the world to the point that, now, it counts among its artists many winners of international dance and vocal competitions and musicians from world-renowned conservatories and symphonies.
Shen Yun Performing Arts, Recalling the Great Qin © 2012 Shen Yun Performing Arts
At the core of Shen Yun performances is classical Chinese dance, an age-old art form complete with its own system of training and movements. Dynasty after dynasty, it was passed down among the people, in imperial palaces, in plays, and even in martial arts techniques.
Alongside classical Chinese dance, Shen Yun also features a variety of folk, ethnic, and story-based dances, presenting China’s rich diversity and long-cherished legends. The show takes you riding with Mongolians across boundless grasslands one moment and climbing up into the Himalayas or drumming on an ancient battlefield the next.
Yet, perhaps Shen Yun’s most unique offering is its ability to capture the very spirit of traditional Chinese culture. Ancient stories come to life on stage to celebrate compassionate, courageous, and even quirky characters. Audiences experience the thrilling triumph of the Song dynasty’s loyal general Yue Fei, cheer on the Monkey King as he tricks a stubborn foe, and witness inspiring scenes of courage from today’s China.
“I think the most unique aspect of a Shen Yun performance,” says Shen Yun Principal Dancer Miranda Zhou-Galati, “is that it has a very strong message of hope, which is something that really touches the audience’s hearts.”
Looking across the aisle at other members of the audience—young and old alike—and seeing the joy on their faces, I’m again reminded how universal is the appeal of traditional Chinese culture. It’s something not to be missed.
Shen Yun Performing Arts will return to Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater Jan. 10-19. Tickets at: ShenYun.com/new-york and 800-818-2393.