STAMFORD, Conn.—The Palace Theatre in Stamford, Connecticut was buzzing with energy and activity on June 26, with two performances of Shen Yun Performing Arts that kicked off the renowned dance company’s 2021 world tour. Audience members were thrilled to be able to attend large social gatherings once again following pandemic-related postponements, some even making three-hour drives to attend the Connecticut shows. As Shen Yun’s mission is to revive 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, the performances are a rare chance to glimpse China before communism took over.
“Ancient Chinese culture should come back, and it should challenge communism, and maybe someday it will prevail over communism,” said Christopher Bob, who saw the Saturday evening performance with his wife Tracey. The traditional Chinese culture Bob witnessed on display was “definitely a great movement and the show supports that movement,” he said. “I think it’ll only grow and benefit, and maybe one day, such forces will overtake communist China … traditional Chinese culture should prevail in Chinese culture. It’s a very divine culture, and it’s a very old and ancient culture, and it should not be forgotten.”
“The peacefulness, the beauty, the joy, the talent” itself can inspire society, Tracey added.
Ancient Chinese civilization was centered around the idea that harmony existed between heaven, earth, and humankind. Shen Yun, which translates to “the beauty of divine beings dancing,” expresses the divinely-inspired culture of China through the arts.
“I’m having the most wonderful night—first of all, [being] out of the pandemic mentality…and [I’m] so privileged to experience this beautiful program,” said Pamela, a former pianist, who admired all the artists’ dedication to their craft. “They have such a passion, every single one of the dancers…you can see the expressions on their faces. I just think that they have a total passion and love for what they’re doing.”
Ivan Snook, a graduate student of aesthetic philosophy, applauded the universal humanity conveyed through Shen Yun. “I love the arts, especially opera, which Wagner would call the ‘total work of art’”—a feat of artistic creation embracing visuals, experience, and performance—”one of the most important mediums of communication that we have,” Snook said. Because Shen Yun uses music and dance, he said, it is able to communicate something profound.
“Something that is entirely universal comes out from such a performance, and that is really how we connect as people across cultures—through artistic expressions,” Snook said. “I thought it was really very beautiful in that sense: it shows our common humanity.”
Snook was also greatly appreciative that the performance extended the 5,000-year journey up until the modern-day—particularly addressing the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing persecution of adherents of the spiritual practice Falun Gong. Since 1999, the Chinese regime has severely suppressed the spiritual group, with millions facing police harassment, detention, and torture.
“I think it’s always been a little unfortunate how little attention Falun Gong has gotten,” he said. “You go from these very colorful, very flowy, very mythological, beautiful scenes, and then all of a sudden you have a scene that’s dedicated to the imprisonment of Falun Gong and the organ theft,” referring to the Chinese regime’s harvesting of organs from prisoners of conscience for use in transplant surgeries.
“It’s so radically modern and radically tragic. I think that contrast was extremely powerful and extremely beautiful,” Snook added.
There were also scenes like a water sleeves dance, where female dancers gracefully threw long-flowing silken sleeves, Snook recalled. The moment they released their sleeves in sync, they would light up the room with color.
China’s long history brought to life on stage also reminded Snook of more natural and humanistic ways of living, he said. “What it means to be human—and then everything we have in society is built upon that…sometimes that comes with conflict. Many of us have lost touch with our shared humanity.”
Richard Tuting, an accountant, and his wife Elizabeth had plans to see Shen Yun at New York City’s Lincoln Center last year, but the pandemic shutdowns hit just days before the scheduled shows.
“I feel wonderful, like I’m floating in heaven almost,” Tuting said after watching the Saturday evening performance. His wife added that watching Shen Yun may become a new tradition for them: “We’ll have to do this every year.”
Reporting by Sally Sun, Sherry Dong, and NTD Television.