Since its creation in New York in 2006, Shen Yun Performing Arts has celebrated 5,000 years of traditional Chinese culture through music and dance, in venues around the world.
And each year, the dancers, musicians and acrobats in the company recreate themselves.
Shen Yun, which translates to “the beauty of divine beings dancing” had humble beginnings as a sole company, but has grown into five that tour the world simultaneously, having performed 495 shows in 142 cities and 19 countries last year.
Northern California cities on the current tour include Fresno, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Berkeley and more.
It takes continual creativity to overcome the challenge of remaining fresh. From distinct costumes to visualizing time periods and synchronizing a 40-piece orchestra, they have their work cut out for them.
David Zhang, the community outreach manager for Shen Yun’s tour in Northern California, shared why the company shows no sign of running out of material.
“China’s long history of 5,000 years, with its rich culture and diversity, provides an almost endless source of artistic creativity,” said Zhang in an email interview.
For 11 seasons in a row, they’ve unveiled new stories, original music compositions and ideas for visual effects. Shen Yun’s patented technique of integrating the stage with animations leaves viewers in awe, like when a flying dragon can morph into a dancer.
With a history so rich in storytelling, such as the stories of Mulan and General Yue Fei, these productions feature large groups of dancers dressed in period garments, as well as animated backdrops, combining legendary tales and technological advancements seamlessly.
Videos take audiences through an ancient dynasty, that of the Tang or Qin, to places like Mongolia, Tibet and Dai village. Including interactive qualities, performers are able to jump to and from the screen to an audience’s enjoyment.
Choosing which tales to bring out, like “The Fable of the Magic Brush,” is what excites the group, as there is surely a number of stories that mean a lot to these elite artists, but also those behind this grand scale cultural creation, that could’ve very well become extinct.
Since each year is a brand-new show, and the 2018 program has yet to be seen by anyone, Zhang is unsure which tale will be a hit this time around but anticipates one in particular.
“From ‘Journey to the West,’ ” said Zhang, “a classic novel loved by many in China, and one contemporary piece displaying the message of the triumph of human spirit.”
With all the performances happening in the Bay Area, there were at least four added this year at the Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. Zhang mentioned that Shen Yun Performing Arts will tour a total of 13 different cities in California.
Most of the choreographers and composers are from China, but the current master of ceremonies, Leeshai Lemish, was born in Israel and has a California education.
“His job is to introduce each piece,” said Zhang, “and provide the audience with enough background to help them fully understand and enjoy the performance.”
The orchestra blends elements of essential and unique Chinese music, with the grandness in nature recognized from Western symphonies. Sounds of ancient instruments like the pipa and erhu are intermixed to establish a revitalized and unheard-of quality.