Gina reviews Shen Yun, an evening of classical Chinese Dance

Last night, I saw Shen Yun, “an unforgettable experience of Chinese Dance and Music.” Shen Yun Website

I know what you’re thinking….what? After seeing movie after movie, we wanted a change of pace so Dan got us these tickets for Valentine’s Day. We like to watch Japanese anime and we are very interested in Asian cultures in general so this sounded very interesting and fun. And wow, was it colorful!

Shen Yun has three touring companies and specializes in traditional Chinese dance which combines ballet and many acrobatic moves, ethnic and folk dances, and story-based dances.

The evening was laid out into a series of formal Chinese dances and songs interlaced with a pair of hosts that speak in English and Mandarin for a truly bilingual experience. One of the big components of the show was a giant projector screen in the back that would show heavenly beings descending down on clouds and as soon as they were out of shot, the actual dancers would rise in position on stage! And then in other portions of the show, people would dance offstage and then their digital representation was floating on the screen! Now THAT feels like 3D to me.

The costumes are amazingly beautiful. The colors were bright, there was lots of sparkly ornamentation and embroidery and so many flowy costumes that looked fantastic when the dancers spun around.

If you’ve seen “House of Flying Daggers”, you might get an idea in your minds on what this was like from Zhang Ziyi’s opening dance. The sleeve dancing had to be my favorite part of the evening, there were three or four dances in all and it was just so pretty when they flew around! I’m including a video at the bottom because I can’t describe it properly.

Another favorite dance of mine was the Silver dance where these girls all had crazy silver headpieces with giant silver necklaces filled with clanging coins that they had to time just right to get a beat going with the orchestra.

The story based dances were fun. One was about a guy who got drunk and decided to dance fight a tiger. Another was about a forbidden romance where a girl was trapped into a mountain and had to be rescued by her grown son with a golden axe to break into the mountain.

There were also a few more modern stories about current day climate in China. When we were taking our seats, I noticed a huge portion of the audience was Chinese as well and through the course of the evening we were informed that this show…can’t be shown in China.

At first I couldn’t figure out why. What could be so harmless about ladies dancing with handkerchiefs or crazy long sleeves? Or these guys dancing with paper lanterns and playing drums? Then it clicked after a “present day” scene was laid out where a woman practicing her religion was suddenly ballet-beaten (with cymbal claps to empathize) until she moved no more and eventually rose up and floated away on the back screen on a cloud. There was an undercurrent in the show from that point on that focused on this belief system that emphasizes morality, making your way to the other shore in the afterlife, and “Dafa” was even quoted in the songs.

I got home and hit up wiki for more info: Falun Gong It turns out this religion/system of beliefs began in 1992 and focuses on being a good person and has derived from Buddhism and Taoism. The last dance of the evening was a story-dance about the Monkey King and followers bringing Buddhism to China and finished with monks dancing around with orange books with the golden emblems on them.

According to this show, Dafa is banned in China and its followers are persecuted in the way demonstrated in the show. I thoroughly believe people should be allowed freedom of religion. I was just surprised at how much propaganda was delivered to us through dance. In the second act, another Dafa follower was “attacked” and the attackers went so far as to use a prop taser on him! I turned to Dan and asked, “Did someone REALLY just get tased in this pretty ballet???” It sure makes Zoolander’s break-dance fighting look tamer.

All in all, this was a beautiful show, the dancers were superb, and the colors and music all equaled a good time. It’s not super serious all the time either, many dances are just light-hearted, cute, happy and make you wonder how they can keep up the smiling this whole time and control their breathing so they don’t look utterly exhausted.

This show runs one more performance tonight, March 10th in Indianapolis at the Murat theater downtown.
Ticket Information on the Shen Yun site