Photographer Calls Shen Yun a Must-See
PHILADELPHIA—The City of Brotherly Love is no stranger to world-class art. So when local artist Stephanie Nolt, a professional photographer who runs her own business, said that Shen Yun Performing Arts is a once in a lifetime experience, she’s in a good place to speak with authority.
“The music was beautiful. The stories were compelling,” Nolt began, recalling what she had just seen of New York-based Shen Yun at the Merriam Theater on Feb. 17, 2020.
“Some of them were a little more tragic and some of them a little more bright and sunny. So you had a really big array of story-telling and also theatrical experience, too,” she added.
Shen Yun’s mission is to revive traditional Chinese culture through ancient and highly-expressive art forms such as classical Chinese dance, bel canto vocal performances, unique musical performances, and more.
China’s true culture was once almost lost. Shen Yun’s efforts are considered the forefront of a Chinese cultural renaissance going on around the world today, but sadly, stifled inside China. The Chinese Communist Party has sought to wipe out the country’s profound and storied history, seeing it as a threat to its own legitimacy and power.
“One of my favorite musical pieces was the soloist [who played the erhu],” Nolt said, adding that that performance was very touching. “Yes that was amazing, I’ve never seen somebody play that, so that was very gorgeous.”
Kai Xi is the erhu player who performed a solo piece titled “Roaming Without a Care” as part of Shen Yun Performing Arts Global Company in Philadelphia on Monday. Shen Yun has seven touring groups that travel the world each season, bringing an all-new performance to over 150 cities.
The erhu, according to the Shen Yun’s website, “is incredibly expressive, capable of imitating sounds from chirping birds to neighing horses. An alto instrument with a middle-high musical range, its melodies can be tender or sonorous. In its lowest and middle range, the erhu is especially stirring and somber, a quality eminently suitable for conveying the grand pageant of China’s history and the emotions of its people.”
Nolt felt positive energy from Shen Yun’s performers, which sparked a hope in her for the rest of Shen Yun’s audience members as well as for the rest of humanity.
“I hope that everybody came out [of Shen Yun] with a feeling of inspiration and beauty and maybe some thought-provoking ideas or how to treat people in the future and those around you as well. And to respect cultural differences,” she said.
Being a professional artist, Nolt looked at the performance with a critical eye and ultimately praised the artistic choices.
“I think that the backdrop was a little minimalistic—it really helped to draw your eyes to the dancers and everything that was going on theatrically through the play,” she said.
With her artistic eye trained on the performers, Nolt noticed the couture costumes on the dancers that many say are magnificent.
“Oh, [the colors and costumes] are beautiful,” Nolt said. “The colors are bright and gorgeous and just inspiring.”
Nolt then continued sharing her response to Shen Yun’s stories that she called compelling. Shen Yun’s performance is comprised of roughly 20 short vignettes, some of which depict scenes set in China during ancient, mythical, and modern-day time periods.
Nolt commented on the modern-day stories that portray the real-life persecution now going on within China’s borders. The Chinese Communist Party, in its effort to eradicate China’s traditions, abduct and even torture innocent spiritual believers in an effort to turn the entire nation atheist.
“Yes, I think that the persecution was obviously very strong and powerful and touches a soul with everybody I think, that has been through something like that or knows people that have been through things like that,” Nolt said.
The stories of persecution in Shen Yun are ultimately hopeful since they depict spiritual followers’ compassion, perseverance, and faith while dealing with the brutality.
China’s spiritual roots are present throughout the stories, however, and show up in a variety of aspects in the performance, which Nolt noticed.
“I think it just shows a strong root in the fact that they still work a lot with meditation and also respecting the cultural difference between the opposite sex. Does that make sense? You know there is still this man and woman separation, but at the same time really respectful of each other,” the photographer said.
Nolt said that she definitely felt a spiritual message from the show, and elaborated that “I think the theme of [a] higher power, faith was prevalent throughout the entire experience.”
“I’d say that [Shen Yun] is something that you definitely have to see because it’s a once in a lifetime experience. It’s not something you get to see very often.”
With reporting by William Huang and Brett Featherstone.
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