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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

How Shen Yun Is Becoming A Tour De Force

By Ludwig Van on November 24, 2018

Shen Yun, Four Seasons Theatre

Presented by the Falun Dafa Association of Toronto

From zero to six touring companies and sold out audiences all over the world in just 12 years — that’s a remarkable success story in an industry notorious for its volatility.

Behind the spectacle on stage lies the bedrock of Shen Yun’s appeal — an emphasis on traditional values through the expression of classical Chinese music and dance. With a combination of performance and dazzling stagecraft, the yearly touring shows have won over audiences from Toronto to Buenos Aires to Vienna and points in between.

The numbers don’t lie — over one million audience members across the globe have seen a Shen Yun performance in high-profile venues like New York City’s legendary Lincoln Center, the famous Palais des Congrès in Paris, and London’s storied Royal Festival Hall.

But, the company does not neglect smaller and mid-sized cities, performing in places like Kansas City, and Hamilton, Ontario. It’s been a highly effective multi-faceted outreach campaign that has surely brought the first taste of authentic Chinese culture to many people.

Shen Yun was founded by Chinese immigrants to the USA in 2006. Their goal was to promote traditional Chinese culture through music and dance — a centuries-old culture that has been in decline in modern-day China, where society is officially atheistic under the current regime.

Based in New York state, the company’s Chinese dancers and artists in exile created a retreat for fellow Chinese immigrants who had emigrated to escape persecution for their beliefs. The sprawling 427-acre property in Deerpark, New York incorporates architectural buildings in the style of the Tang-dynasty, and the Fei Tian Academy where the dancers and musicians train.

From a single troupe of dancers that began back in 2006, Shen Yun grew over the years to six companies. In total, a touring troupe consists of just under 80 people, including about 40 dancers, along with the musicians, and technical crew. The companies include both professional dancers and full-time students.

Keeping six companies on the road takes dedicated artists and staff, and the majority of Shen Yun’s dancers and musicians attend the company’s training facility. There, the musicians train on traditional Chinese and Western instruments, forming the symphony orchestras that perform on tour. Dancer training is rigorous, with practice every day on techniques and the intricately synchronized movements, as well as the posture and bearing that is fundamental to classical Chinese dance. Along with the physical aspect of dance, the performers add the study of traditional Chinese culture, with its emphasis on self-cultivation based on the time-honoured values of harmony, honesty, benevolence, justice, wisdom, respect, and faith in the divine.

Dancers and musicians learn to perfect traditional dances and music from all over China, including dances from Mongolia and Tibet. Some depict folktales, such as the classic story of The Monkey King — stories that have been entertaining crowds for centuries.

The training program is coupled with a grassroots model. The Falun Dafa Association, a spiritual discipline based in traditional Chinese believes, presents each Shen Yun show in their respective local cities, with its members taking on marketing duties. It has proven to be a very effective way to spread the word about the shows.

Shen Yun’s tours last five months each year, and take the six touring companies through North and South America, as well as Europe, Asia and Australia. When the tour ends, the companies return to New York… to start over again.

Every year, there is a new show, meaning dancers and musicians are back to rehearsals. The elaborate and colourful costumes are made by hand. Along with the performers, the stage show features cutting edge technology, with innovations added for every new show. Shen Yun makes use of animated backdrops that turn the stage into a world of the imagination that complements the performance with natural vistas, visions of traditional Chinese art and gardens, celestial realms, and more.

Shen Yun means “the beauty of divine beings dancing”, and the words reflect the company’s guiding principles — to present the beauty of China’s 5,000-year-old culture through uplifting dance performances.

Upcoming shows in this area:

Jan 8 – Centre in the Square, Kitchener

Jan 9-13 – Living Arts Centre, Mississauga

Mar 23-24 – FirstOntario Concert Hall, Hamilton

Mar 26-31 – Four Seasons Centre, Toronto

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