This past Saturday, I was kindly invited to attend a very special show, Shen Yun Performing Arts, at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. After experiencing the fantastic show, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts in an interview with Jan Jekielek from The Epoch Times. (The Epoch Times in an independent international newspaper, written in both Chinese and English, based in NYC.) A brief snippet of my interview with New Tang Dynasty TV was also featured on their nightly news (see 1:09):
Shen Yun Performing Arts is the world’s premiere Chinese dance and music company. It brings together dancers, opera singers, and a unique orchestra; combining ”western-style” symphony orchestra instruments with traditional Chinese. Performances are essentially a revival of classical Chinese art forms that, sadly, are rarely performed in China due to restrictions placed upon free expression by the Chinese communist government.
Shen Yun’s artists are of Chinese descent but live outside of China. I had the pleasure of meeting four of the lead dancers at the cast reception following the show and each called a different corner of the world their home; The United States, France, Australia and New Zealand to be precise.
In addition to being an absolutely vibrant, unique and visually-stimulating show, Shen Yun also presents the audience with very powerful and meaningful messages, as artistic accounts of modern-day human rights plights are portrayed alongside dances depicting ancient Taoist legends, Buddhist teachings, and stories found in classic Chinese novels.
For example, following a dazzling, colorful dance of “Mongolian Hospitality,” a scene in modern China is depicted where a mother is taken from her child, beaten, and thrown into a detention center by communist guards for practicing Falun Dafa meditation in a public park. The qigong practice of Falun Dafa, centered around the ideals of truthfulness, compassion, and forebearance, is strictly prohibited in China. Falun Dafa practicioners, alongside Tibetan Buddhists and other spiritual groups, often face religious discrimination at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), despite the fact that Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution provides, “[c]itizens of the People’s Republic of China [shall] enjoy freedom of religious belief.” (Learn more about China’s religions and their plights here, Council of Foreign Relations, 2008.)
While most reviews of Shen Yun are positive, a few media outlets have, unfortunately, given harsh critiques of the show for invoking human rights and spiritual messages into the performances. Even Wikipedia gives what I believe to be an unfair explanation of the show, quoting the show as “propaganda” for Falun Dafa. These critics fail to realize, however, that spirituality and spiritual world concepts, such as reincarnation and the heavenly realms, are intrinsically interwoven into traditional Chinese culture. Such strong, spiritual imagery, which is quite prominent in the Shen Yun performances, thus may be uncomfortable concepts for certain Western audiences to digest, although I believe that most people thoroughly enjoy the show as evidenced by the sheer number of people who attend each performance. For example, one song explains that ”Dafa’s disciplines” can “clear the haze” while another dance depicts the homecoming of a monk who returns to the East after a long pilgrimage in search of Buddhist scriptures.
All in all, I had a wonderful time at the sold-out Shen Yun Performing Arts show and I look forward to their next visit to Washington, DC, which will be in August 2010. And of course, I find it particularly powerful when art can serve dual purposes as both entertainment and education.
If you are interested in experiencing traditional Chinese classical music and dance, I strongly suggest taking in a performance. To find out if Shen Yun’s 2010 world tour is coming to a city near you, go to the Shen Yun Performing Arts website, under “Get Tickets.”
A special “thank you” to Desheng Jiang for her thoughtfulness and Jin Pang for her help and hospitality.
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