The name "Shen Yun" could be translated as "Divine Dance." The group purports to present classical Chinese dance which is more or less the case, depending on the piece. A number of the pieces in the extensive program were described as regional or folk dances, and pieces such as "My Beloved Yi Village," "Northeastern Drummers," "Herding on The Grasslands," and "Harvest Joy," definitely had that flavor. There were two pieces based on Chinese classics, "The Monkey King Outwits Pigsy," from Journey to the West, and "The Heroic Lu Zhishen," from Outlaws of the Marsh, which were in styles similar to Chinese "opera" that I have seen. Other modern pieces, such as "Recalling the Great Qin" clearly had both Chinese and Western balletic influences. A third group, "Our Story," "No Regrets," and "The Opening of Heaven's Gates," which depict the martyrdom of Falun Dafa followers at the hands of hammer-and-sickle wearing thugs, were clearly of modern origin, as were the vocal interludes drawn from Falun Dafa writings.
The performances were beautifully danced and gorgeously costumed, and well supported by a full orchestra incorporating both Western and Chinese instruments. The show also used attractive projected backgrounds, sometimes animated, that the performers interacted with. (One was unsure how much of the humor of this was intentional. One expects they didn't get "Monty Python" in China--.) The vocalists were uniformly very good, with contralto Jiansheng Yang having the deepest singing voice I have ever heard in a woman. The pieces were introduced by two smiling hosts who explained what was to follow in more or less detail, in both English and Chinese. I felt this slowed the show down a bit, especially since detailed descriptions were given in the program book, but the obvious effort at friendliness and sincerity added an element that was both kind of charming and vaguely surreal, reminding me as it did of both 60's era Christian youth outreach, and early contacts with the Unification Church (although I hasten to add that, as far as I can tell, Falun Dafa is otherwise entirely unlike the "Moonies").
All in all, we were glad to have seen the show. In this gray season, we badly needed a dose of music, motion, and color, and Shen Yun Performing Arts delivered that very well. There was also an interesting and pleasant infusion of Chinese culture, although I think it is fair to alert the potential viewer that much of that which is not actually classical is overt propaganda.
Shen Yun has three touring companies and does new shows annually. I don't recall them being in Milwaukee before, but, although we enjoyed the show, i don't think we would bother to seek them out if they came back next year.
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