Mom and I had a very different type of adventure this week. When we heard about Shen Yun coming to Fresno, it was something so different to us, we wanted to see it and learn more. We had heard that these dancers wore incredible costumes and the show was full of authentic classical Chinese but not much more than that. A live orchestra and even a demonstration of an erhu, a traditional two-stringed Chinese instrument, were included in the performances.
Where: William Saroyan Theatre, 730 M St, Fresno
Date: December 27, 2017
From the very first performance, the things that strike you are the incredibly brilliant colors and flowing material in the costumes. The dancers were so precise in their movements but the movements could be so soft and flowing, as if they were walking on air. Every arm extended to the same exact position. One of the first dances performed was “Han Dynasty Sleeves.” The female dancers costumes had soft, flowing extra long sleeves that they cast or threw out. Photography is not allowed during the performances but Shen Yun Performing Arts graciously gave me permission to use their stock photos.
The dances involved leaps into the air and each movement lined up perfectly and at the same height. Incredible!
Each dance told a different story and each dance had its own colorful costumes. Several dances were based on ethnic dances and attire, including Hmong and Mongolian ethnic groups.
I learned that in Chinese, “Wu” is the same word used for “dance” and “martial arts.” Both have the same historical roots. In traditional Chinese culture, it is based on the idea of harmony among Heaven, Earth and humankind.
In 2006, a group of artists formed Shen Yun and their goal is to bring Chinese culture back. There are five Shen Yun companies touring the world and all-new shows each year. They are based in New York where the dancers train and refine their performances.
According to the show’s website, Shen Yun was founded in 2006 by Falun Gong members seeking to preserve traditional Chinese culture. The performances also touch on the political aspects in China. Falun Dafa, also called Falun Gong, is described as an advanced self-cultivation practice of the Buddha School.
Falun Dafa was founded by Li Hongzhi in 1992, the practice’s master. It is a discipline in which “assimilation to the highest qualities of the universe—Zhen, Shan, Ren (Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance)—is the foundation of practice. Practice is guided by these supreme qualities, and based on the very laws which underlie the development of the cosmos.” Falun Gong claims 80 to 100 million followers worldwide, including more than 10,000 in North America. Some people call it a religion, some call it a spiritual movement and some call it a cult.
In 1999, China’s Communist Party formally branded Falun Gong a cult and outlawed it. The official website for the Chinese Embassy in the United States is not kind with their words on Shen Yun or Falun Gong, saying that “Falun Gong is a political group that is utterly anti-China and seeks to undermine China-US relations.” A link to their statement is at the bottom of this blog. A campaign was initiated in 1999 by the Chinese Communist Party to eliminate the spiritual practice of Falun Dafa.
I wanted to share some of the political background because a few of the dances such as “Unprecedented Crime”, deal with the Chinese Communist Part’s crackdown on Falun Dafa.
Mom and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. The colorful and flowing costumes were just amazing and those dancers–wow! This was the third year that Shen Yun has been to Fresno and they are planning to come back next year. They change their program and dances each year.
Mom and I attended a matinee show and went out for lunch before the show. We had planned to go to Chef Paul’s, a soul food restaurant located at 952 F. St., but were very sad when we pulled up to see that they were closed for the Christmas week, so we went to Plan B. We stopped by Tree of Life Restaurant for a wonderful lunch.