Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The last time I reviewed the Shen Yun Performing Arts company was six years ago. I said it was an amazing experience to see these young Chinese dancers appearing dressed like Tibetan monks, ancient warriors, with acrobatic dancing. It was like a combination of dance and martial arts. The 2016 version, in the Bay Area this week, is still an astonishing experience. It's sort of the Eastern version of Cirque du Soleil.
Yes, it's a propaganda exercise on the part of Falun Gong and the group has been banned as an "evil cult" by the Chinese government since 1999. Some scenes depict Chinese Community officials in black with the hammer and sickle on the back of their outfits beating the Falun Gong group for their beliefs. This is pure classical Chinese dance with its own unique and systematic training methods. The dancers perform turns, flips, spins and other high-flying aerial and tumbling techniques. It's 3000 years of Chinese culture.
The Shen Yun presents twenty-two six to seven minute scenes using an incredible technology system for integrating digital background with stage performance. This is Shen Yun Performing Arts' patented invention. The huge, clear projection on stage allows performers to travel back and forth between the stage and the animated backdrop. The animated images are lifelike extensions of the performers. It's an awesome experience.
Shen Yun also has a huge orchestra that includes regular instruments such as trumpets, violins, and double bass plus Chinese instruments like the pipa and erhu. Many of the dance pieces are either less precise or more mythical and they are performed with great vigor and meticulousness. The dances include Chinese classical dance and folkloric dances from several regions of China.
The highlights for me are a scene entitled "Sleeves of Silk" in which an all the females incorporate long sleeves to create whirling aerial patterns. It is repeated with the dancers using enormous soft fans. There were comic moments such as "Joyful Little Moments" and awesome moments like "How the Monkey King Came to Be" in which a live dancer portraying the Monkey King tumbles from the screen to the stage, and the Tibetan drums scene in which each male dancer is outfitted with a drum on the back his outfit.
Shen Yun Performing Arts at the War Memorial Opera House, Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, through January 8, 2017. For more information on the tour, visit www.shenyunperformingarts.org.