The lights are dim, the crimson curtains drawn.
It’s approximately 7:15 on the night of January 25th, and I sit in the balcony of the grand theater, waiting for a life-changing performance. I know it’s life-changing because the first time I saw it 2 years ago, I was moved, astounded, inspired, and so much more.
I came alone, wanting to fully submerge myself in the experience, but I am still surrounded by a crowd well over a thousand, all of different ages and appearances. The 74 dollars needed for the ticket and the treacherous teetering up the stairs in heels are just small prices to pay for two hours of the diverse and powerful music, dance, acting, culture, and history I am about to receive.
The title printed boldly on the blue pamphlet in my lap reads Shen Yun. According to the inside, “Shen Yun” loosely translates to “the beauty of divine beings dancing.” Shen Yun itself is a performing-arts and entertainment company formed in New York City. They perform a mixture of classical Chinese dance and ethnic/folk dance, usually in a narrative structure, with orchestral accompaniment and solo performers. So along with traditional Western instruments being played in the orchestra, like the violin or the trombone, there is also traditional Chinese instruments such as the pipa or the erhu. The dancers are also not just dancers, but acrobats, actors, and even comedians. It’s truly fine art in the highest form.
A man walks around several rows below, waving a sign that declares No photography permitted during the show! In this day and age, when I can spy at least 12 people on their smartphones at a time, I find it’s getting harder for them to enforce this. Since I lack a cell phone of my own, I worry not about breaking this rule. After all, to distract both the performers and the audience with the bright light from a phone screen would be sacrilege.
The orchestra begins to play, each musician joining in until they form one single swell of melodious noise. The show has begun.
Two hours later, I leave the theater in a daze, the crisp night air waking me from some sort of dream. The sound of chatter from surrounding strangers is background noise, the glowing headlights of vehicles blurred in my vision. I am at peace and yet also abuzz with excitement, wanting to share my experience.
Words cannot truly express how sensational it was, but I will try my best describing the performances that appealed to me the most. The first is titled “Mongolian Bowls”: an ethnic dance in which 16 women performed with bowls of simmering milk tea, precariously balanced on their heads or in their hands. I loved this dance the most not only because of the sheer skill involved, but also because of the costumes. They were made of jewel-adorned sapphire fabric which sparkled with every twirl, atop layers of flowing white skirts and puffy white sleeves. That, coupled with the fluidity of their movement, reminded me much of the ocean.
My second favorite dance was “Yellow Blossom”, in which the female dancers, dressed in mint-green and white gowns, used ruffled yellow fans to create the appearance of flowers in motion. At one point, they even came together to form one large flower shape, shaking the fans to make the “petals” of the flower rustle.
My third and final favorite piece was a narrative with a lot of acrobatics, named “Monkey King at Fire Mountain.” It takes a story for the 1592 novel, Journey to the West, which is about a monk and his companions who search for Buddhist scriptures. I won’t spoil the story, but it involves a humorous monkey king (of course), a princess, a goddess, and a lot of fire.
These were just three pieces, but there were close to 20 in all. My descriptions really don’t do Shen Yun justice; you must experience it for yourself to understand. It’s not just for lovers of drama or dance like me, but anyone willing to endure a few hours of sitting to undergo a transformative ordeal.
For those who have seen it, what are your thoughts? Let me know in the comment section below.
© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic