Photocredits: Shen Yun Performing Arts
TORONTO - Shen Yun is a classical Chinese dance and music company established in New York in 2006. The name Shen Yun literally means “the beauty of divine beings dancing”. The aim of the production is to make use of a number of theatrical and artistic techniques to recount ancient stories and legends, some dating back to the Tang and Song dynasties (5000 B.C.).
Amidst vibrant colours, exquisitely crafted costumes, world quality musical performances, and a seamless blend of ancient Chinese dance and the latest technologies, the strong religious and political message of Shen Yun’s performance at the Mississauga Performing Arts last Wednesday, night could not be missed.
Interspersed between beautifully danced numbers depicting ancient Chinese culture and myth – including Mongolian bowl dancing, Tibetan drums, Han Dynasty sleeve dancing, and yang ge, a folk dance using 8-tipped flying handkerchiefs – Shen Yun performers brought to life in a most vivid way the religious and cultural persecutions that China’s people have faced under the communist regime.
In A Child’s Choice and Boundless Compassion, the troop danced scenes of the massacres which befell Falun Dafa practitioners in 1999 and which continue today. Tenor Tian Ge performed The Wish, a politico-religious piece of his own composition, in which he reminded the audience that “status and wealth prove empty at life’s end”, singing of a purpose beyond this world and the deliverance to be found in following Dafa. Not surprisingly, the Master of Ceremonies informed the audience that performances such as these can no longer been seen in China, where the practice of unsanctioned religion is illegal and where traditional Chinese culture is being eradicated.
Shen Yun are certainly not the first, nor will they be the last, to use art as an expression of freedom and resistance. The political implications of Verdi’s operas at the time of the Risorgimento is but one of many examples from our own history. Yet while Italian art and history has been carefully preserved, ancient Chinese culture has all but been erased. Those who are bold enough to practice their religion publicly, be it Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhism or Catholicism put themselves at risk of persecution, arrest and imprisonment. We need only consider that the Dalai Lama has been living in exile since 1959 to grasp the gravity of the situation.
Shen Yun is both a force for preservation and a force for change. Traditional Chinese artists believed that cultivating virtue was a necessary component in art, as art was an expression and celebration of the divine. Faithful to this tradition, Shen Yun performers commit themselves not only to the study of dance, but also to meditation and spiritual devotion. In this way, these dancers and musicians not only represent ancient Chinese culture and beliefs, but participate actively in preserving these through their way of life.
Witnessing this performance, I could not help but feel gratitude for the religious freedoms we enjoy as Canadians. Coupled with the sense of wonder and awe I experienced before the beauty and complexities of Chinese culture was a sense of powerlessness to help those being persecuted in China. The reality of religious persecution in so many countries today should make us all the more protective of the rights and freedoms which are ours.