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‘Divine’ dance, music of China spring to life with Shen Yun at Weber State

By Becky Cairns, Standard-Examiner Staff - | Dec 22, 2015
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Shen Yun, a troupe of dancers and musicians who spotlight 5,000 years of Chinese culture, performs on Dec. 26, 2015, at Weber State University in Ogden.

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Shen Yun, a troupe of dancers and musicians who spotlight 5,000 years of Chinese culture, performs on Dec. 26, 2015, at Weber State University in Ogden.

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Shen Yun, a troupe of dancers and musicians who spotlight 5,000 years of Chinese culture, performs on Dec. 26, 2015, at Weber State University in Ogden.

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Shen Yun, a troupe of dancers and musicians who spotlight 5,000 years of Chinese culture, performs on Dec. 26, 2015, at Weber State University in Ogden.

OGDEN — Water sleeves, “flower-pot” shoes and flat-topped umbrellas.

Those are just a few of the things to watch for in the colorful celebration of ancient Chinese culture that is Shen Yun.

This 100-member touring company of dancers and musicians takes the stage of the Weber State University Browning Center on Saturday, Dec. 26.

This is the troupe’s fourth visit to Ogden, but publicist Cheyenne Liu says the traveling show is always changing.

“Every year is brand new costumes, brand new music, brand new choreography and a brand new production,” Liu, of Midvale, said. “You never see the same show twice.”

Now, about those “flower-pot” shoes. The four-inch platforms are worn by the Manchurian Maidens, dancers who represent the last dynasty of the Chinese, the Qing Dynasty of 1644 to 1911.

“The heels are in the middle of their foot,” Liu said. “Manchurian princesses, they’re known to be very elegant and very graceful because they had to walk very carefully on their shoes.”


 PREVIEW

WHAT: Shen Yun

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 26

WHERE: Browning Center’s Austad Auditorium

Weber State University, 3848 Harrison Blvd., Ogden

ADMISSION: $60-$150. 801-626-8500, weberstatetickets.com


The water sleeves are on display in a dance from the Sui Dynasty. The long, silky sleeves are used to accentuate certain movements, some of which inspired the creation of ancient statues of imperial court dancers.

Look for the flat-topped umbrellas in “A Joyful Harvest,” a folk dance celebrating the happiness of a bumper harvest of crops.

Liu said Shen Yun features 17 different numbers and each one has its own digitally projected backdrop, ranging from scenes in nature to the interior of an imperial palace.

The backdrops incorporate synchronization with the movements of the dancers, Liu added, so at times, “it’s like they’re popping out of the screen.”

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All the costumes, from the elaborate headdresses to the footwear, are all handmade in-house for Shen Yun, which literally translates as “Beauty of the divine beings dancing.”

The music for the show is all live, provided by a 40-piece orchestra that features both ancient Chinese instruments and traditional strings, woodwinds and brass.

“Western instruments have a different scale system than Eastern instruments,” Liu explained, so all the music must be specially written to blend the two traditions.

Two orchestral stand-outs are the pipa, a type of Chinese lute, and the ehru, a two-stringed violin that dates back 4,000 years.

The ehru is said to be the instrument that most resembles the human voice, Liu said; “It’s one of the most sorrowful, mourning sounds you will ever hear,” she said.

Shen Yun is the creation of a nonprofit performing arts company based in New York City. The organization was founded in 2006 as a way to spotlight the 5,000 years of Chinese culture that predated communist rule in the country.

The artistic company was founded by practitioners of Falun Gong, a meditation practice that originated in China but has since been banned there by the government.

“You actually cannot see this show in China,” Liu said.

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Photo supplied by Shen Yun Performing Arts

Shen Yun, a troupe of dancers and musicians who spotlight 5,000 years of Chinese culture, performs on Dec. 26, 2015, at Weber State University in Ogden.

The Ogden program and performances at Salt Lake City’s Capitol Theatre on Dec. 29 and 30 are presented by Falun Gong members who make up the Falun Dafa Association of Utah, Liu said.

Shen Yun now boasts four touring companies: two that travel throughout the United States and Canada, one that tours Europe and another that tours Asia and Australia.

Some folks are familiar with the performances of the Peking Acrobats, but Liu said the gymnastics and acrobatics of that group are also rooted in the same Chinese classical dance spotlighted by Shen Yun.

“We’re so much more than that; this is truly a show of a brilliant, rich culture, a vibrant culture that lasted for a long time,” she said.

With Chinese immersion programs so popular in schools, Liu said many Utah residents are interested in learning more about the culture.

“This is one way for you to learn it without having to read a big history book,” she said.

Visually “stunning” and musically appealing, Shen Yun touches on all the senses, Liu said. Beyond that, the show highlights such universal themes as compassion, faith, family values and loyalty.

“The message is something everybody can relate to — the whole family can relate to, young and old,” she said.

Contact reporter Becky Cairns at 801-625-4276 or bcairns@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @bccairns or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SEbeckycairns.

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