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|Headquarters||Cuddebackville, New York|
|Divisions||New York Company, International Company, Touring Company|
|Headquarters||Cuddebackville, New York|
|Divisions||New York Company, International Company, Touring Company|
Shen Yun Performing Arts, formerly known as Divine Performing Arts, is a performing-arts and entertainment company based in New York. It performs classical Chinese dance, ethnic and folk dance, and story-based dance, with orchestral accompaniment and solo performers. The Shen Yun website translates the phrase shen yun as "the beauty of divine beings dancing".
Shen Yun was founded in 2006 with the mission of reviving "the essence of 5000 years of Chinese culture", which it asserts to have been nearly demolished by the Chinese Communist government. The company's performers practice the Falun Gong (Falun Dafa) spiritual discipline, and performances around the world are hosted by local Falun Dafa Associations.
The group is composed of three performing arts companies: The New York Company, The Touring Company, and the International Company, with of a total of over 200 performers. For seven months a year, Shen Yun Performing Arts tours to over 130 cities across Europe, North America, Oceania, and Asia. Shen Yun's shows have been staged in several leading theaters, including New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, London’s Royal Festival Hall, Washington DC's Kennedy Center, Paris' Le Palais de Congrès. The company has performed extensively in Taiwan, but has yet to perform in Mainland China or Hong Kong. The show's acts and production staff are trained at Shen Yun’s headquarters in Cuddebackville, in Orange County, New York.
Expatriate Chinese Falun Gong practitioners living in North America founded Shen Yun in 2006 in New York. The company’s first tour took place in 2007, when the company comprised 90 dancers, musicians, soloists and production staff. Shen Yun states that its underlying mission is to "revive the essence of 5000 years of Chinese culture", which it asserts to have been nearly demolished by the Chinese Communist government. Initially the shows were titled "Chinese Spectacular", "Holiday Wonders", Chinese New Year Splendor, and "Divine Performing Arts", but now the company performs under the name "Shen Yun." As of 2009, Shen Yun had expanded to three full companies and orchestras that tour the world simultaneously. By the end of the 2010 season, approximately one million people had seen the troupe perform.
Each year, Shen Yun creates original productions lasting 2.5 hours and consisting of approximately 20 vignettes featuring classical Chinese dance and ethnic dance, as well as solo musicians and operatic singing. Before each act, bilingual MCs introduce the upcoming performance in Chinese and in local languages.
Each touring company consists of approximately 60 male and female dancers, and large-scale group dance is at the center of Shen Yun productions. The shows mainly feature what is described on the company’s website as "classical Chinese dance" – a comprehensive dance system passed down through thousands of years and which is recognizable in part for its extensive use of acrobatic and tumbling techniques, forms and postures.
Shen Yun’s repertoire draws on stories from Chinese history and legends, such as legend of Mulan, Journey to the West and Outlaws of the Marsh. It also depicts “the story of Falun Gong today”. During the 2010 production, for instance, at least two out of 16 scenes depicted the "persecution and murder of Falun Gong practitioners" in contemporary China, including the beating of a young mother to death, and the jailing of a Falun Gong protester. In addition to classical Chinese dance, Shen Yun also draws inspiration from the spirit of various ethnicities, including Yi, Miao, and Mongolian dance.
Shen Yun describes classical Chinese dance as comprising three core components: bearing (yun), form, and technical skill. Technical skill describes the physical techniques of jumping, flipping, and leaping. Form encompasses the subtle expressive movements and postures that make up Chinese dance. Finally, bearing is described by Shen Yun as referring to the "inner spirit…something resembling cultural DNA or an ethnic flavor" that allows the dancer's emotional state to be conveyed. Because the "bearing" (yun) of classical Chinese dance is related to a society's culture, some of what makes up the distinct Chinese bearing has been "lost in the process" since the cultural changes of the Communist revolution, according to Shen Yun choreographer Vina Lee. Lee relates that dancers must "refine their moral character" in order to "convey the transcendence and spiritual realm that is the very soul of Chinese culture".
Shen Yun dances are accompanied by a Western philharmonic orchestra that integrates several traditional Chinese instruments, including the pipa, suona, dizi, guzheng, and a variety of Chinese percussion instruments. There are solo performances featuring Chinese instruments such as the erhu. Interspersed between dance sequences are operatic singers performing songs which sometimes invoke spiritual or religious themes, including references to the Falun Gong faith. A performance in 2007, for instance, included reference to the Chakravartin, a figure in Buddhism who turns the wheel of Dharma.
The company counts a number of noted musicians among its ranks. Three performers—flutist Ningfang Chen, erhuist Mei Xuan and tenor Guan Guimin—were recipients of the Chinese Ministry of Culture’s “National First Class Performer” awards. Prior to joining Shen Yun, Guan Guimin was well known in China for his work on soundtracks for over 50 movies and television shows. Other notable performers include Erhu soloist Xiaochun Qi.
Shen Yun’s dancers perform wearing intricate costumes, often accompanied by a variety of props. Some costumes are intended to imitate the dress various ethnicities, while other depict ancient Chinese court dancers, soldiers, or characters from classic stories. Props include colorful handkerchiefs, drums, fans, chopsticks, or silk scarves.
Each Shen Yun piece is set against a digitally projected backdrop, usually depicting landscapes such as Mongolian grasslands, imperial courts, ancient villages, temples, or mountains. Not all the backdrops are static; some contain moving elements that integrate with the performance.
Shen Yun promotes itself as "a presentation of traditional Chinese culture as it once was: a study in grace, wisdom, and virtues distilled from five millennia of Chinese civilization." The company is described in promotions as reviving Chinese culture following a period of assault and destruction under the Communist Party. Shen Yun is heavily promoted in major cities with commercials, billboards, and brochures displayed in the streets and in businesses, as well as in television and radio profiles.
Shen Yun performances are often produced or sponsored by regional Falun Dafa Associations, and are promoted by practitioners of the spiritual practice, which is persecuted in China. Some journalists have raised objections about the show's promotion strategy, which does not always clearly note the religious-themed content of the performance.
Shen Yun was established in 2006 as a company with approximately 30 dancers, as well as an orchestra, soloists, artistic directors and production staff. During its 2007 season, the company produced 32 performances, and was seen by an estimated 200,000 people. Since its inaugural season, the company has expanded to include three equally large companies with dozens of dancers, soloists, and orchestras. These companies tour the world simultaneously for seven months per year, performing in over 130 cities worldwide. The company's productions have spanned North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America. Notable venues include the London Colosseum in London, England; the Palaise de Congres in Paris; the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington DC; and the David H. Koch theater at New York's Lincoln Center. By the conclusion of Shen Yun's 2010 performance, an estimated one million people had seen the performance worldwide.
Despite touring to five continents, Shen Yun does not perform in mainland China. Moreover, the Chinese government has attempted to cancel Shen Yun performances internationally through political pressure via its foreign embassies and consulates. Chinese diplomats have also sent letters to elected officials in the West exhorting them not to attend or otherwise support the performance, which they describe as "propaganda" intended to "smear China's image." Members of the Communist Party's top political consultative body have also expressed concern because China's state-funded arts troupes have been unable to compete with Shen Yun's popularity internationally. Shen Yun representatives say the Chinese government’s opposition to the show stems from its depictions of modern-day political oppression in China, as well as the fact that it includes expressions of traditional Chinese cultural history that the Communist government has tried to erase.
Shen Yun was scheduled to perform in Hong Kong in January 2010, but the performance was cancelled after a controversial decision by the government of Hong Kong to refuse entry visas to Shen Yun's production crew. The decision was overturned in March of the same year, but the company has yet to return.
In October 2012, Shen Yun’s symphony orchestra made its debut performance at Carnegie Hall in New York. The performance featured conductors Milen Nachev, Keng-Wei Kuo, and Antonia Joy Wilson, and the program included both classical works such as Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Major, as well as original compositions that fuse Chinese and Western instruments.
The company also performed a special show for cadets at the United States Military Academy West Point on October 16, 2010.
Paula Citron, theater critic for Canada's Globe and Mail said "the production values are grand in terms of costumes and scenic effects, and the performers are all very good-looking and meticulously disciplined." A critic for Chicago Tribune remarked that the female dancers were "as delicate as they are quick, and their skills include a nimble mastery of traditional talents, such as the classic fan dance." Joel Markowitz of DC Theatre Scene described tenor Guan Guimin's voice as similar to that of Beniamino Gigli, "with a glorious sweet upper range-and crystal clear diction, sung with great emotion." A reviewer with the Philadelphia City Paper remarked on how "the orchestra's blend of Western and Chinese instrumentation and timbre works, its erhu players seamlessly mixing in with more traditional musicians." The New York Observer noted that the 2011 production at New York's Lincoln Center received "highly favorable reviews." In 2008, by contrast, The Toronto Star gave the show 1 1/2 stars out of 4, describing it as "spectacularly tacky" and noted the choreography was "consistently banal"
Shen Yun's depictions of religious content and political repression in China have also drawn mixed reviews from critics and audiences. A Shen Yun production manager explained that while most of the performance does not deal with persecution, other acts nonetheless have "uplifting moral themes and extol virtues promoted by Falun Gong: truthfulness, compassion and forbearance." Although some reviewers have praised the artistry and message of these acts, others have noted the political elements may lead to a "biased view of Chinese history and contemporary culture." The Daily Telegraph stated the show presented "a Disneyfied version of Chinese culture." In 2008, a reviewer for The Guardian gave the show 2 stars out of 5, writing that although there were "some authentic pleasures to be seen on stage," what ultimately emerged from the production was "a protest against China's communist regime". The St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote that the 2012 production had "plenty of grace, athleticism, lovely music and eye-poppingly colorful costuming and backdrops", but also noted that the performance touched on the contemporary political situation in China: "It's clear that the creators of these tradition-fueled dance works are acting as protectors of the past but also advocates for openness in the present."