Shen Yun Brings Chinese Legends to Life in NYC


Shen Yun Performing Arts, a New York-based company, brings the rich heritage of Chinese legends to life, sweeping audiences away with colorful dance, vibrant music, and spectacular sets. What beautiful secrets are in store this year?

shen yun ancient elegance

Shen Yun performed "Ancient Elegance" during the 2012-2013 season.

Okay, so you’re trapped under a mountain. All odds are against you—what do you do? Be thankful that you let your son play with axes when he was a kid. This ancient Chinese legend is a Romeo and Juliet-meets-Achilles story.

This tale, which has been brought to life by Shen Yun Performing Arts, begins with a bright young scholar wandering through the woods. He stops to rest at a secluded temple deep in the mountains. There, he notices a statue of the most magnificent goddess he has ever seen, and composes a poem praising her ethereal beauty. The goddess is so moved by the litterateur’s verse that she defies heavenly decrees and descends to the mortal world to meet this young man. The two fall hopelessly in love, marry, and give birth to a son—the demigod Chen Xiang.

But defying the laws of heaven forbidding deities from marrying humans comes at a price. When the goddess’s brother, a powerful three-eyed god, discovers what his little sister has done, he is outraged. Taking heaven’s law into his own hands, he comes down to Earth, snatches his goddess-sister, and hurls her under one of China’s most sacred mountains, Mount Hua. This is the very mountain where the young lover wrote his poem.

As the dust settles, father is nowhere to be found, mother is trapped under a ginormous mountain, and Chen Xiang, still only a child, is left all alone. The boy starts roaming the land in search of a way to rescue his mother. Hungry and tired he finally stumbles upon an old Taoist master. The sage sees that Chen is not an ordinary child and takes him under his wing. He teaches him the sacred Taoist ways and martial arts, training the boy day and night for 16 years. Finally Chen’s training is complete, and the old Taoist bestows upon him a magic ax.

yang zhi and his saber, shen yun

Shen Yun performed "Recalling the Great Qin" during the 2012-2013 season.

With his trusty ax and years of martial arts training under his belt, Chen returns to Mount Hua to rescue his mother—only to find his three-eyed uncle peering down at him from atop the mountain.

This story came alive on the Lincoln Center stage in 2010: The protagonists donned elaborate and colorful ancient costumes. They glided across the stage and leapt through the air with dramatic flipping techniques. They went from being animated figures on the digital backdrop to instantly appearing as real, live people on stage in a way that defied reason. The battle that ensued between the demigod Chen and his menacing uncle was accompanied by memorable music performed by a live orchestra. And when the boy ultimately wins the battle and sets his ax against the mountain with a loud gong, what was formerly a huge mountain on the projection split open and his mother emerged, alive and well.

Bringing back these lost legends is Shen Yun's forte. The New York-based company excels at taking these ancient stories and making them accessible to audiences in the West. Its artistic team does this through the language of music and dance, primarily classical Chinese dance—one of the richest and most expressive art forms in the world.

Narrators briefly introduce each piece, giving just enough of an introduction to help the uninitiated understand the story, but not too much as to slow the pace or give away the plot. As soon as the curtain rises, it is hard not to be swept away to the enchanting world of ancient China and its legends.

And with 5,000 years of history, traditional Chinese culture provides an abundant treasure trove of stories and heroes—each typically accompanied by a moral. Shen Yun thus need not worry about running out of raw material, and the company produces an all-new performance each year.

What will be performed in this year’s show is still a secret. What is known is that, starting in December, Shen Yun will tour more than 100 cities around the world, and will be in New York Jan. 10-19, 2014. The 10 New York performances (including four matinees) will be at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater. Children must be at least 5 years old to attend.