MONTGOMERY NEWS: Former Lower Merion H.S. grad to narrate Chinese cultural extravaganza
Former Lower Merion High School student Leeshai Lemish, after having done his fair share of cultural explorations, determined that his focus would be traditional Chinese culture. And he will put his experience with that culture to good use when he appears onstage with Shen Yun Performing Arts on Jan. 2 and 3. That’s when Shun Yen’s touring company, one of three under its direction, will launch its 2010 world tour at the Academy of Music with two spectacular performances.
Lemish, who speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently, along with a Chinese woman, will host the shows, coming onstage between each dance performance to tell the audience what they will see next, provide historical background and add comic relief.
A dual U.S. and Israeli citizen, Lemish saw his interest in Chinese culture begin when he played baseball in high school. Training his mind to perform well in the sport eventually led him into the world of visualization and meditation.
Lemish then discovered Falun Gong, a meditation practice from China that is guided by characteristics of the universe and based on self-cultivation.
“As I became interested in the practice … I became interested in the human-rights aspect of it,” Lemish said.
As Lemish describes, and history confirms, the Communist Party in China felt threatened by the growing scale of the population practicing Falun Gong and banned the practice in 1999. After this ruling, the party reportedly committed acts of torture and genocide against thousands of followers of Falun Gong.
Lemish could not ignore these atrocities and while an undergraduate student at Pomona College, where he majored in Asian Studies, he and 35 others from around the world went to China to participate in a sit-in.
Even recently, on Dec. 22, 2009, an Argentine judge asked Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization) to issue arrest warrants against China’s former president Jiang Zemin and former security chief Luo Gan. While subsequent actions are unlikely, this order is confirmation that other nations care about these people.
“The last thing I would’ve thought I would end up doing would be working for an art company, because I came from this very human-rights background,” Lemish said in a recent phone interview. The overlying goal of Shen Yun Performing Arts, which is to help people of all backgrounds understand traditional Chinese culture and revive the lost spiritual essence behind these cultural practices, isn’t very far from Lemish’s own interests.
Shen Yun Performing Arts is a New York-based company that has seen tremendous growth since its founding in 2006. It began with just one company that toured North America and a few cities in Europe and now has three companies whose tours span the globe.
The companies are made up of ethnic Chinese who grew up in Western cultures, adding authenticity to each ethnic and folk dance performed.
“At the core of this show is classical Chinese dance, which is a very unique form. A lot of people not interested in dance really enjoy it,” Lemish said.
The orchestra that performs at the show consists of both traditional Western instruments and Chinese instruments to provide a distinctive, powerful sound. Combined with bright, handmade costumes and a high-tech backdrop that makes the whole stage appear three-dimensional, the show is meant to be an all-encompassing experience.
Lemish, who has been with Shen Yun since the beginning, said that earlier incarnations may have been geared to Chinese people in different cultures, but it now offers a genuine Chinese cultural experience for those of other backgrounds.
Audiences who come to this show can expect to witness “a very colorful show, very dynamic, full of a lot of energy … with a strong overall message of hope,” Lemish said.