Score = B
(Live/ Performing Arts/ G – **if there was a rating)
*The year is not a typo. Their new year starts in December and ends in May in the US.
Review by: Kisho Wolfe
Logline: Chinese culture told through interpretive dance and music.
Well, well, well… Look who gets to add a shiny new section to their review blog. Yep, this guy! And I couldn’t be more thrilled about it! I typically haven’t sought out too many live shows for entertainment, because, well, they very rarely entertain me. (Except for maybe a couple of shows in ‘Vegas, but not entirely for the reasons you’re probably thinking. The strength some of those seemingly normal human beings is quite impressive!)
But this about Shen Yun. A nonprofit company based in New York that has made it their mission to revive authentic Chinese culture through classical Chinese dance and music. Two very powerful methods used for over 5000 years to ensure Chinese culture is continually passed down to new generations. They note the reality of the current communist situation over in China, which pretty much locks down freedom of expression and worship in a multitude avenues to the point where even a show such as this one would not be allowed to perform there. Well, as unfortunate as that is, I’d have to say, their loss is our gain.
This year’s show runs about two and a half hours (including intermission) and includes almost two dozen separate performance pieces. Most of them are stories told through beautifully choreographed dance sets broken up by introductions. We also get treated to solo soprano performances during our time here and although the singers’ voices were extremely powerful, it was Guang Ling’s vocal tones that absolutely blew me away. The songs are sung in Chinese so the words are displayed in English on a screen behind the singers. However, if you’re anything like me and listen to music from different regions even though you can’t understand the language, you tend to appreciate the sound just as much or maybe more than the actual words. Speaking of sound, Lu Sun has a solo musical number (with accompanying piano) playing the erhu – a bowed, two-stringed Chinese vertical fiddle – that’s absolutely breathtaking!
A few of my favorites during the show included: “Sleeves of Grace” – a colorful number with the maidens dancing near a lotus pond with silk sleeves accenting their movements, “Monkey King and The Skeleton Demon” – a demon disguises herself in a number of human forms to capture the monk and his people and it’s up to the Monkey King to save them, and finally “Chopsticks Dance of the Mongolian Ladies.” This last one here with the chopsticks… yeah, I need to find more of these! The elegant movement of the ladies combined with the sequined outfits flowed well with the drums and sound of them clicking the chopsticks to the beat. It was pretty sweet! Everything was so fluid and those drums made you want to shake those shoulders just a bit. Loved it!
Shen Yun may have started their journey together in 2006, but don’t let the young age of the company deter you from checking out their show at least once in your life. Most of the magical folks that make up the company are veterans in their craft from different parts of the globe. The artists here represent everything from singing, dancing, musical and physical training. Some of these performers have even been at their craft since the young age of six and their mastery of their respective avenue of study is evident on stage. The video backgrounds add a comfortably seamless integration to each story, but make no mistake, there’s nothing artificial about the skills witnessed here.
The orchestra Shen Yun has put together is on a level of its own. They compose original music pieces combining traditional instruments from Chinese culture with instruments and sound from our neck of the woods here on the Western side of things. The Shen Yun Orchestra has over 90 musicians and also goes on tour throughout the year as its own entity separate from dance. It was my first experience enjoying a live symphony orchestra and I promise you this; it will NOT be my last! Having a great sound system is great and all, but you haven’t had a “crispy” sound experience until you’ve literally shared the same breathing space with all of the instruments collaborating together in perfect harmony with room acoustics to die for. If only I could find the album…
Not much could be said in the ways of less than satisfactory in regards to Shen Yun’s show. The one gripe I have is strictly an opinion more so than a production issue. My minor issue is with the amount of stories being told. I feel that trying to put so many different stories into the show takes away from how powerful the program really could be. Each story is roughly about five minutes a piece and by the time it starts ramping up and you really get into it is right about the time the curtain closes on that particular story. If they maybe cut the number of stories in half and made them more elaborate, the audience could have a more in-depth experience of each piece by the time the curtain drops. The majority of the production centers on good vs. evil and paying respect to the gods, so the themes are pretty obvious and easy to grasp. I would just like to bring home more from each story for a deeper telling rather than the “CliffsNotes” version to really engulf me in what’s happening on the stage.
Seeing this show was definitely a step outside of my comfort zone. I stumbled across a pamphlet at a Chinese food restaurant about a year ago and all the colors and acrobatics implied caught my attention. After finding out more about the show, the more intrigued I became at jumping in (see what I did there) to see what all the fuss was about. While I missed the opportunity last year, I’m definitely glad I didn’t miss it this year. It has inspired me in a number of ways and was a straight up enjoyable time. Aside from maybe trying to tell too many stories in one sitting, this production absolutely has my vote for an encore. If it’s happening in your area, do yourself a favor and give it a go. At the very least, you’ll definitely enjoy all the vibrant colors and of course the music.