TULSA WORLD: Chinese Performing Arts Simply Divine
The simple dictionary translation of the Chinese characters for the words "Shen Yun" is "charm or grace," especially in reference to arts.
But when Tulsa resident Luke Fang tries to explain the complexity of meaning contained in what sounds to be simple syllables, words fail him.
"These words have such a richness of meaning to Chinese people," he said. "I think the easiest way to describe it is as something from above, that can only be experienced, not talked about."
Shen Yun Divine Performing Arts is a company that takes this idea very much to heart. Attempts to interview people associated with the troupe were met with the response: "We do not accept interviews from journalists before they have seen the show, as we feel like the show is different and we would like journalists to experience it in person and get a feel for it first."
Fang, on the other hand, is more than happy to talk about Shen Yun Divine Performing Arts. He first saw the company perform two years ago in New York, where the company is based, and was so impressed by what he saw that this industrial engineer — with no experience at all as a presenter of performances — has spent the past few months working to bring the troupe to Tulsa.
"I thought it would be easy," Fang said, laughing. "It has been a real education, but I have received a great deal of help from many people."
Fang and his family have traveled twice more to New York to see the company perform and last year arranged for a bus to take a group of Tulsans to Dallas for a show.
"It is an incredible thing to see," he said. "This touring company has 95 performers — 60 dancers and singers, 35 musicians. And there are thousands of costumes, all of them very brightly colored and often very elaborate. The music combines traditional Chinese instruments with a Western orchestra is a way that is unique."
"And it is very easy to follow what is happening," added Susie Fang, his wife. "The show has two narrators, one male and one female, who are like tour guides, making sure everyone knows the history and the story of each piece."
The production, which changes yearly, is augmented by state-of-the-art scenic projections that have an almost three-dimensional quality, to evoke everything from vast meadows to imposing palaces.
The company's shows — there is a New York Company, a company touring the United States and one that tours internationally — have drawn extravagant praise. The San Francisco Chronicle said the Shen Yun Divine Performing Arts performance is "boldly ambitious and enormously popular a heady blend of the ancient and modern, a grand cavalcade of Chinese cultural scenes"...
The shows are also resolutely about the richness and splendor of China's distant past, rather than its more problematic present.
"By reviving the traditional culture, it helps to change people's attitudes about China," Fang said. "You see countries go downhill because they have lost their core culture. For the Chinese people, that core culture is about achieving a balance between heaven and earth. That is what is 'divine' about this show, that message that people can regain a connection to that original, traditional culture."
March 15, 2009