Preview: Shen Yun 2015

Photo courtesy of Shen Yun 2015
Photo courtesy of Shen Yun 2015

Photo courtesy of Shen Yun 2015

Once referred to as the Sleeping Giant, China is set to overtake the U.S. in ten years as the world’s biggest economy. What about its culture?

Chinese legends, going back over 5,000 years of history and expressed in classical dance, music, folklore, and visual art are the essence of an amazing spectacle returning to Montreal Jan. 7-11 for a ninth consecutive year.

Shen Yun 2015 presents six performances at Salle Maisonneuve, Place des Arts, including 2 p.m. matinées Saturday, Jan. 10 and Sunday, Jan. 11. Organizers suggest booking tickets early, because the shows sell out fast.

Shen Yun, which means divine performing arts, has been performing worldwide since it was developed in 2006 in New York by expat Chinese. An orchestra of 50 musicians plays Western and traditional Chinese instruments, while 50 dancers and singers tell the stories of each segment, set against hand-painted and animated backdrops. The music is all new and composed for the show by in-house artists.

Charles Jin, of the presenters, the Falun Dafa Association of Montreal, explained that the dance tells the story. The dancers are famous for leaps, tumbles and spins.

“Chinese dance has three aspects – technical skill, the dancers’ bearing, and Yun, the expression of inner meaning,” Jin explained.

“The costumes are all hand-made, hand-dyed for the 20-odd segments prepared each year. Each year’s program is different from the previous ones,” he said.

The two-and-a-half hour show combines dazzling costumes, imaginative props, and animated backgrounds. The sketches include solo performances and ensemble productions.

There are also segments with operatic singing, drumming, and folk dancing. The artistic inspiration comes from the breadth of Chinese cultural sources and influences from surrounding cultures.

You won’t have to divine what it all means since each segment is introduced in English, French, and Chinese (Mandarin), with plot summaries and background information.

The troupe of some 200 is headquartered in Cuddebackville, 135 kilometers northwest of New York City, and consists of four teams that travel to perform around 400 shows in 120 cities around the world.

The philosophy behind the group, he explained, is to maintain and nurture traditional Chinese performance arts as a living and creative force.

“Chinese culture is a divine culture, we believed in god. We believe that good deeds are rewarded. That’s the education we had,” Jin, who was born in Canton, said.

“Communism knows one thing, the power of the gun – violence for control. This is against our culture of tolerance, compassion, dignity, loyalty, integrity, and caring for parents.

“That’s what we used to study, how to behave well. Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism had a similar message.”

All the vignettes have a moral/cultural essence.

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“Being Chinese, these shows remind me, and teach my kids, born in Canada, something rich and profound.

It is unlike anything being produced by companies based in China, he said.

And the cultural message is profound, he added.

“Go visit China and you will see things with your eyes; this show makes you see with your soul.”

Ticket prices reflect Shen Yun’s monumental scope, travel, and production costs.

Reviews online are ecstatic in their praise, such as this one from Maggie Wenzhuo Hou, who teaches human rights and public affairs at the University of Ottawa:

“Shen Yun isn’t just a beautiful performance – it is a chance for people around the world to experience the essence of Chinese civilization. Shen Yun is a flawless presentation of the inner beauty of Chinese culture.”

Violinist Joshua Bell called it “very powerful, very emotional.”

Actress Cate Blanchett said it was “an extraordinary experience, exquisitely beautiful.”

Tickets cost $76 to $191 and may be ordered by phone at 514-800-2928, or purchased at the Place des Arts box office, 175 Ste. Catherine W. Children under 5 are not admitted. Classical opera or ballet performance attire is recommended.

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