Thursday, January 16, 2014

Shen Yun

I apparently wasn't thinking when I scheduled a Sunday outing during the playoffs. Luckily, the 49ers game was in the morning, so I still managed to catch a few minutes of it before riding into the city with my seester to see Shen Yun at the War Memorial Opera House. It was something we were both separately interested in seeing, so when she mentioned it to me a month or so ago, I was already in.

I hadn't done too much research into the show prior to going, but I did spend a little chunk of time reading the pamphlet that came in the mail some months ago while I was eating dinner one night and it piqued my interest. I knew it was traditional Chinese dance, but I didn't really know what to expect other than some ballet-esque moves which I assumed would be a part of it judging by the photo.

Let me just say, it was so much more than that. Sure, there were leaps and there were spins (some made me a little dizzy just watching them), but there were also tumbling techniques and sheer grace to each and every movement.

Part of the appeal is definitely the costumes. While the costumes for the men were fitting, the real showstoppers were the women's ensembles. They were bright, flowy, and the attention to detail was incredible. The women seemed to float across the stage in their long skirts and it's a wonder that not one of them had a single misstep, even in the heelless high heeled shoes. 

While I thoroughly enjoyed the show, I was surprised by a few things. I didn't realize there would be hosts to introduce each dance and give a brief backstory as to what we were about to see. It was convenient because you knew exactly what you were watching as it was happening, so there wasn't much second guessing unless you missed a part of the earlier dialogue. The other, was the digitally projected backdrop which added another element to not only the dances, but to the stories they were telling as well. It's pretty difficult to portray a person and a giant dragon fighting in the sky while on stage, so this allowed the full story to come to life in another way. I also enjoyed the way the dancers were able to go back toward the screen and drop down below, only to "reappear" on the screen and back to the stage again. One thing that really caught me off guard was that Shen Yun is not allowed to perform in China and they have apparently had to overcome quite a bit of opposition to even perform in other countries. I'm so glad they persevered because it was a great experience. 

I definitely had my favorite dances and the two I seemed to love the most were the ones just before and after the intermission. Mongolian Chopsticks was a dance comprised only of men and they were carrying what was supposed to be handfuls of giant chopsticks. As they danced to the music from the orchestra, they kept the beat with those chopsticks and the resulting sound was utterly amazing. I was in awe. The other dance, The Lotus Fairies was visually appealing because the fans the women were using had an extension of fabric, so when they quickly flicked their wrists, the fabric at the ends of the fans made waves. It was beautiful. 

If you have the opportunity to see a show, I do recommend it. It really is a cross cultural experience and you'll learn something while watching in awe at how graceful the dancers move across the stage. If you're lucky enough to have considerate people sitting around you who don't insist on making ignorant comments or speak loudly throughout the performances, you'll be swept away. The show changes every year, so even if you've seen it once before, you won't be seeing the same show twice.


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