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Dance review: Shen Yun presents vivid showcase of Chinese history

Thursday, January 20, 2011
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— Is Chinese classical dance the mother of all movement? Shen Yun Performing Arts, as seen at Proctors on Wednesday night, certainly made a convincing argument that this ancient art is the inspiration for the world of dance.

That’s because Chinese classical dance clearly combines ballet, tumbling, folk, Eastern and martial arts into a fluid and elegant style. It is not fusion. This dance stands on its own, radiating an integrity that is wrought in a knowledge of and devotion to tradition.

Shen Yun, a New York-based ensemble of Chinese dancers, vocalists and musicians, put on a colorful showcase that tried to harness 5,000 years of history. The dances give its viewers a glimpse of dynasties, kings, goddesses and warriors. All have regal bearings. All aim to demonstrate the beauty and richness of the Chinese culture.

But this was an odd show too, part primer, part vaudeville show, part political protest. And it droned on a bit too long. (This reviewer had to leave before the final curtain to make deadline.)

Happily, the dancing was superb. Each piece captured an era or a bit of culture: the graciousness of the Tang dynasty, glories of the Manchurian court or the lushness of the plum blossom. Made for an ensemble cast, dances were performed with the precision and flair of Las Vegas strip show, minus the sexual innuendo. Each piece was short, but hypnotic. But the intoxication did not last as the curtain quickly came down between each number so that two narrators, Jared and Kelly, who took turns speaking English and Chinese, could introduce the next dance.

This is where the show is in desperate need of a makeover. These two wooden figures tried to banter, but did it poorly. Their jokes were hokey and forced. A few in the audience, feeling sympathetic, let loose nervous titters.

The two did a good job, however, educating the audience. But all of the information that they shared, about the dance and music as well as their upcoming tour, was printed in the program. Sadly, their narration deadened what should have been a seamless spectacle.

But the strangest thing was the anti-government message. In the first and second act, they performed skits depicting the brutality of the oppressive Chinese Communist regime. Both skits demonstrated what happens to practitioners of Falun Daja, a spiritual belief that is currently banned in China. Apparently, if you study or seek to practice this belief in truth, compassion and tolerance, you will be beaten and killed.

The violence did not mix well with the rest of the show, which included many flying angels who blessed the lowly and ridiculous. Nor did it bolster the lame jokes.

But if you go back to the heart of the show, which was the music and dance, audiences of Shen Yun were well-pleased. That part was divine.

Reach Gazette reviewer Wendy Liberatore at wendyliberatore@yahoo.com.

 
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