Founder, Artistic and Creative Director D.J.
Lyric Theatre until April 17
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
It has taken 5,000 years of Chinese culture, and it’s finally here.
For the past sixteen years, the non-profit, independent, performing arts company, Shen Yun, has been taking Chinese culture to the world. I was surprised learn that the Chinese expatriate adherents of Falun Gong are based at a 427-acre compound in Deerpark, New York, northwest of New York City. The company has toured more than 130 cities across Europe, North America, Oceania, and Asia.
The masters of ceremonies, the Chinese Nancy Zhang and American Oliver Perrett, in evening wear, very formally introduce eighteen separate dance routines and songs. Oliver looks like he came straight out of Madame Tussauds, and he and Nancy have an understated sense of humour.
There are instrumental bits and soprano solos, but it’s the dancers that provide the most spectacular visual experiences.
Each dance routine is a performance in itself and combines gymnastics, acrobatics, classical ballet, modern dance and a hint of martial arts all connected by traditional Chinese culture. The enchainments of stage-devouring fouettés are breath-taking, and to have up to forty dancers on stage at the same time performing back flips and cartwheels without using their hands is impressive. On the massive Lyric Theatre cyclorama are digitally projected animated scenes that remind me of the backgrounds of Japanese video games, but on a huge scale. They give an astounding sense of vastness and depth.
One favourite scene is Water Sleeves in which the female dancers perform gymnastic stunts and difficult dance moves in flowing gowns with two-metre-log sleeves. How do they maintain their poise? Other scenes that stand out are Blue Heaven, Men of Jurchen, Monkeying Around in Paradise and Insanity During the End of Days, which surprisingly involves the subject of organ harvesting.
The other interesting element in this production is the full orchestra that combines traditional Western orchestral sections with such traditional Chinese instruments as the pipa, the erhu, the guzheng, the suona and a variety of Chinese percussion instruments.
Apparently, the Chinese government bars Shen Yun from performing in China as it considers Falun Gong to be an "anti-society cult”.
Shen Yun has gained so much popularity that there are companies performing around the world. Fortunately, one of them is in Australia. You can catch this unique theatrical experience at the Lyric Theatre until April 17.