The organizers are calling Shen Yun Performing Arts the “largest Chinese performing arts event ever in Spokane.” It’s hard to argue that. This giant touring show has:
• 60 dancers, steeped in the ancient Chinese cultural traditions.
• 40 orchestra members, playing both Western and Chinese instruments.
• Colorful, traditional costumes.
• Spectacular multimedia backdrops which can evoke, for instance, a flower blooming.
All of that and a religious-political message as well.
That’s because Shen Yun Performing Arts is an outgrowth of the Falun Gong movement, a Chinese spiritual discipline repressed by the Chinese government.
Many of the dancers and artists in the show are practicing Falun Gong members, many of whom fled China. In fact, most of the company members live in New York, where Shen Yun got its start in 2006.
One dance scene toward the end of the show, called “Heaven Awaits Us Despite Persecution,” depicts a child who sees her father persecuted for practicing Falun Gong, according to reports from other cities on the tour stop.
The vast majority of the show, however, has no overt message. It is dedicated mainly to keeping alive the traditional forms of Chinese music and dance that were suppressed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and in subsequent decades.
Here’s Shen Yun’s mission statement, as presented on its Web site:
“Shen Yun Performing Arts is a nonprofit organization that is independent of China’s communist regime and which seeks to revive the true, five-millennia-old artistic tradition of China that thrived before decades of suppression by the Chinese communist state. The company seeks to breathe new life into traditional Chinese culture while providing audiences everywhere with an experience of sublime beauty.”
By most accounts, it achieves that goal of “sublime beauty.”
A San Francisco Chronicle reviewer called it “a visually dazzling tour of 5,000 years of Chinese history and culture … a grand cavalcade of Chinese cultural scenes.”
The Charlotte Observer described it as “a Riverdance-style fusion of classical (Chinese) dance, music, myth and spectacle. … Expect an explosion of color and sound on stage, as centuries of Chinese creativity come to life against high-tech scenic backdrops.”
Shen Yun has proven to be a massive audience draw, pulling in 800,000 people around the world in its first two years. It has played Radio City Music Hall, the Kennedy Center and London’s Royal Festival Hall, to name just a few.