A Glimpse of Traditional Chinese Culture

The arts are a lens through which humanity gazes back at itself. Whether it be a renewed sense of morality, a fresh perspective on history or even pure diversion, there is always something to be gained by watching a well done piece of art. For audience members looking to learn more about the traditional culture of China, “Shen Yun” displays the disciplines of dance, music and theatre in a harmonious balance that celebrates heritage with breathtaking beauty.

8x10B image for articleThe phrase “Shen Yun” roughly translates to “the beauty of divine beings dancing,” and at a “Shen Yun” performance, that is exactly what an audience member is likely to see. Maryann Fang is with the local presenting organization for “Shen Yun,” the Falun Dafa Association, and she assures that her organization’s goals are to educate and entertain. “Our organization is 100 percent volunteer-based,” says Fang. “We invite ‘Shen Yun’ to come to Louisville to perform, and we use our spare time and money to promote the show. I first saw a ‘Shen Yun’ performance in New Jersey. I was mesmerized by the performance and felt that this was a world-class show. I needed to bring it to Louisville, where I lived. I’d also like Kentuckians to have the opportunity to experience one of the most ancient civilizations in the world.”

As far as content goes, “Shen Yun” is truly a singular experience. A combination of story-based, ethnic and folk Chinese dance is at the heart of the piece along with brilliant costumes, animated digital backdrops and an orchestra that meshes both classical Western and Chinese instruments. “‘Shen Yun’ produces all-new programs each year. If you missed one year, you missed it forever,” warns Fang. The show boasts a stunning lineup of classical dance pieces, some singers and some solo instrumentalists for a stunning total of around 20 pieces.

It may come as somewhat of a surprise to learn then that “Shen Yun” does not have permission to be performed in China by the Chinese government. “Our mission is to revive 5,000 years of Chinese civilization through dance,” explains Fang. “‘Shen Yun’ cannot be seen in China today, where traditional culture has been devastated by 60 years of communist rule. Yet, Shen Yun Performing Arts, a non-profit organization based in New York, is bringing the wonders of 5,000 years of civilization to millions of people across the globe. ‘Shen Yun’ consists of artists from all over the world with the common goal of reviving this lost culture. Being located outside of China gives them the freedom to express themselves on stage and bring the most authentic Chinese culture back to life.”

Some of the traditional culture on display is told best through the story-based dance, which has, in the past, drawn on specific myths and legends of traditional Chinese culture such as Fa Mulan – the basis for the popular Disney movie “Mulan” – and Chinese Valentine’s Day. These stories are often the carriers of great moral lessons, and Fang considers them to be a vital part of her heritage: “I like the story-based dance the most because many of them are based off myths, legends or historical events – famous heroes and heroines whose virtues have been praised for thousands of years. I have taken my son to see ‘Shen Yun’ for the past three years. The biggest reason I bring him is to instill in him those important traditional values such as compassion, integrity, honesty, which are very important to our society. People don’t talk about them much anymore.”

One final concern some audience members have before attending “Shen Yun” that Fang wishes to dispel is the fear of not being able to understand the performance. According to Fang, each “Shen Yun” performance is hosted by bilingual emcees who will guide audiences through the show and provide all the background needed to enjoy it. Songs’ texts are translated and put on screen, and the material is family-friendly and appropriate for all ages, although patrons must at least be 4-years-old to be admitted inside the theatre at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.

“‘Shen Yun’ is a life-changing experience,” says Fang. “It is very moving, and it touches people inside and brings goodness out of people. It inspires and motivates people to do good things for society and others.” With that, waste no more time. See the beautiful, upcoming production of “Shen Yun” and catch a glimpse of a noble Chinese culture that is a rare sight to behold.

“Shen Yun” will have two shows at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts on February 9 and 10. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit shenyun.com/louisville or kentuckycenter.org or call the box office at 502.584.7777.