CENTRALJERSEY.COM: ‘Shen Yun’ 2012 - Young Chinese Americans rediscover a proud heritage and share its beauty through Shen Yun Performing Arts’ annual performances
It is a lofty goal to resurrect 5,000 years of Chinese history and culture through music and dance, and “take it on the road” to enlighten and delight an international audience. But that is just what Shen Yun Performing Arts has set out to do. In this region, theater-goers can be taken on a spectacular journey when they experience Shen Yun 2012 at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater in New York, Jan. 11-15.
Calling itself the “world’s premiere classical Chinese dance company,” Shen Yun presents thousands of years of civilization and the fantastically rich culture of classical China, brought together through beautifully choreographed dance and all-original orchestral compositions which blend Western and traditional Chinese instrumentation.
The dancers themselves are adorned in sumptuous and magnificently detailed costumes. With dramatic twirls, flips and tumbling as well as gentle, but expressive movements, all set against jaw-dropping 3D backdrops and other production elements, the performers evoke the pastoral beauty and imperial drama of ancient China.
For 19-year old dancer Alvin Song of Pennington, just one look was all it took to motivate him to join the company.
”I saw the show in 2007 at Radio City Music Hall and was so inspired by it, I joined (Shen Yun) in 2008,” Mr. Song says. “It was just uplifting and mesmerizing. I’ve always been interested in the arts and decided I wanted to go on this kind of path.”
Although Mr. Song has always been a high achiever — a talented pianist as well as tennis player — he really pushed himself by joining this elite dance company, where it takes years of training just to appear on the stage.
Chinese classical dance combines grace with an athleticism that would daunt a top-level gymnast. However, the gymnastics that are part of many dances are not just show-offy, gratuitous elements. The tumbling, twirls and flips have their roots in ancient martial arts: If one couldn’t strike one’s opponent, the next best thing was to avoid being struck oneself. So, tumbling might be a defensive move, rolling away from a weapon’s thrust.
Thousands of years ago, during times of peace when martial arts were no longer needed to fight, these movements were incorporated into classical Chinese dance. Both male and female dancers learned and absorbed this marriage of the martial and the expressive.
Classical Chinese dance also places great emphasis on form, especially movements that are full, round and circular, recalling the tenet of Eastern philosophy that “ ... there is beauty in roundness.” Dancers are taught such details of form as how a hand moves upward, how it makes a circle, how to use one’s breath and how to relax. In fact, as in yoga and tai chi, breath is one of the most crucial elements of this dance – the breathing leads the body.
Once a dancer masters technical skill, form, and bearing, he or she is challenged to put it all together and bring to life the choreographer’s vision. Mr. Song says the dances cover thousands of years of history and tell tales of the fantastic legends and lore of ancient China.
”There are many dances to choose from, and I’ve danced many of them, from a wide range of characters and times,” he says. “The ‘Monkey King Defeats the Demon’ from the classic ‘Journey to the West,’ is usually one of the audience favorites. I’ve also performed in the Terra Cotta Warrior dance and ‘Outlaws of the Marsh,’ from Chinese literary classics.”
In its introductory and educational materials, Shen Yun promotes the idea that culture was once heralded as a divine gift. Classical Chinese dance gives reverence to the heavens, and embodies the ideals of benevolence, honor, etiquette and sincerity — ideals that were somewhat forgotten after Mao’s cultural revolution, some Chinese believe.
”Our mission to revive 5,000 years of culture destroyed by the communist government and by the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976),” Mr. Song says.
Born in Rhode Island to parents originally from Beijing (they work in the information technology field), Mr. Song and his family moved to Pennington in 1997. Studying at the Feitian Academy of the Arts in New York City, he graduated from his academic classes and continued to pursue arts training there and at its affiliated Feitian College. The top students at these institutions are then selected to join the Shen Yun Performing Arts.
Mr. Song has toured around the world with Shen Yun’s International Company, performing more than 300 shows in cities across North America, Asia and Australia. During the 2012 season, his fourth with the company, he will be performing in the United States, Canada and Europe.
Mr. Song says he knew some ancient Chinese history, but once he got involved with Shen Yun has really delved into it in depth.
”Both of my parents are Chinese and so yes, I grew up with the history, but now that I’m here, I’ve taken courses, and so many others (in the company) speak Chinese, so it’s allowed me to understand the history better,” he says. “I’m excited to be learning about it. It’s something new every day, and it’s fascinating.”
”(The Shen Yun performances) are a piece of a long lost culture, which is very, very uplifting, and that’s why I wanted to get involved,” Mr. Song says. “It’s a deep message of hope that gives mankind a sense of hope as well.”
Shen Yun Performing Arts presents its 2012 spectacular at the David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, Jan. 11-Jan. 15. Tickets cost $80-$250. (800) 818-2393. Shenyun2012.com/nyc.