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  • Writer's pictureYiorgo

Shen Yun Brings 5,000 Years of Ancient Chinese Culture and Dance to Chrysler Hall

Interview by Yiorgo. Images courtesy of Shen Yun.

To all of us who love ancient Chinese culture, dance and music, be prepared to be transported back in time November 5th and 6th at Chrysler Hall. Shen Yun brings to life the rich history of ancient China with a breathtaking combination of dance perfection, visually stunning costumes, high-tech backdrops and original orchestra compositions.

With us today is Dong Xiang, who believes so much in the mission of Shen Yun that he became the local volunteer promoter and helps organize the local volunteers to work together and promote Shen Yun. Mr. Xiang is not employed by Shen Yun.

Yiorgo: What should people expect to see when they come to a Shen Yun performance?

Dong Xiang: With the pandemic, it is very difficult to travel to China, so we bring the traditional Chinese culture to your doorstep. It is a very fast paced, two and half hour show, with 20 short, different programs, learning and experiencing Chinese culture and history. It’s like time travel. It is definitely something that the people have not seen before. They will see a very, very expressive, very challenging, classical Chinese dancing filled with spinning, jumping, forward and backward flips. It is almost like martial arts but actually martial arts came from Chinese dances. It’s very interesting that in China the word for dance is pronounced “wu” and the martial arts word is also pronounced “wu” so it is exactly the same pronunciation but the writing is different. In the old days, the warriors would use martial arts on the battlefield but in the Imperial palace the warriors used martial arts as a way of entertaining the emperor and the guests. So it’s almost like classical Chinese dance and martial arts are two sides of the same coin.

The incorporation of the high tech backdrop and the Chinese dancing is so unique that it was patented in the US a few years ago. It feels like you have a large screen TV with animation in the background, with the dancers performing in front of it and interacting with it. It feels like the characters are jumping in and out of the background enhancing the very expressive way of telling a story.

Every year they come up with a different program so even if you have seen a Shen Yun performance before, this show is totally different. Also, do not be late to the show because when the curtain opens with the first program, it is designed to have a lot of wow, wow, breathtaking moments.

Y: Talk to us about the dancers, musicians and the costumes in the show.

DX: There are close to 40 dancers, 40 musicians and a handful of a production crew. There are six touring companies. Everything in Shen Yun is original. The artists train and meditate in a secluded, peaceful area in upstate New York, adhering to old traditions of purifying themselves and preparing themselves to perfectly perform the dancing and music.

The costumes are of course influenced and based on the 5000 year old programs being presented. They are hand made and in order to ensure that the color matches the feel and mood of the particular story being performed, they mix and custom make their own colors because they can not buy the colors they need.

The music that you hear are all original compositions, composed by the Shen Yun conductor. The music is performed live by an orchestra that also includes the Chinese musical instruments: erhu and pipa. This is not an easy thing to do, to include these Chinese instruments. It is like trying to mix oil and water together, it’s close to impossible because the pitch and the tone of these instruments are very different from the western instruments. The Shen Yun orchestra is able to mix them together. The performances are not just a feast to your eyes but also music to your ears.

Y: Where are you from and how did you get involved as the local promoter for Shen Yun?

DX: I was born in 1969 and grew up in China under Communist rule where I was raised like all of us in our generation to believe in Communism. That’s totally different from what my parents and grandparents believed in. When I came to the United States I realized that my Chinese culture is so different from what I was familiar with when I grew up. A lot of us are ex-patriots from China. We want to tell the world how China was before Communism took over. This has motivated a lot of Shen Yun artists to dedicate their lives and technical skills to present the show. It also empowered people like me who are not artists to help and promote the show. We, the promoters of the show, are all volunteers, not only do we not get paid to promote Shen Yun but we contribute a small portion of our personal wealth to make sure that Shen Yun has enough resources to send the message out. We have a shoestring budget but we have a lot of volunteers and that is why we are able to promote it in Norfolk.

I am the Executive Director of the Falun Gong Association in Washington DC and we present Shen Yun in the Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC areas. Shen Yun was founded in 2006 and their mission is to restore and showcase the traditional Chinese culture to honor on the stage through classical Chinese dance. The mission is in line with what we believe in the Falun Gong Association. As we know, China has a five thousand year old history and we want to present the Chinese before Communism. The traditional Chinese culture is so different then the contemporary Chinese culture that a lot of people are not familiar with and sadly even many Chinese people don’t know it. I am a perfect example.

Y: What has been a favorite moment of yours with the show?

DX: There is also another very unique aspect of the show and none of the other performing arts have it. It’s Show Energy. A few years ago, I presented a show in West Virginia, and there was a lady sitting near the front who came to see the show by herself. She was very excited and clapped at everything, sometimes too much. When the show finished, we filmed collecting some feedback from the audience and I was very moved by her comments in her video clip. She said that she was in her 70’s and had pain all the time. She stopped taking the pain-killing medicine because it did not work, but she said, trying to hold back her tears, that when she was watching the show, for the entire two and a half hours, she did not feel any pain. I was not surprised because I know the power of Shen Yun. In the old days, the Chinese people believed that dancing is not for entertainment for human beings. In ancient times, artists believed that dancing was a gift from heaven. The artists would cultivate their inner purity and beauty so they can purify themselves, have high morals, and perform the art beautifully and show their gratitude to heaven. In the old days, artists lived in very secluded, temple settings, not interacting with everyday people and they constantly practiced their skill sets and sharpened their minds. Today they practice the same noble task. When they perform on the stage, the power of meditation is such that they can radiate energy directly to the audience and that is why the woman felt no pain. That is something that is very unique about Shen Yun and no other performing art group can do that.

Yiorgo is an arts, entertainment and sports writer. A stage, TV and movie actor, he is also a sports entertainer, educator, motivational speaker, writer, storyteller and columnist.

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