Shen Yun portrays China's ancient stories, modern human rights struggles

Shen Yun Performing Arts
Shen Yun dancers perform against a changing digital backdrop. The New York-based group performs Chinese dances from ancient to contemporary times.

Photo by DAIBING

Shen Yun Performing Arts Shen Yun dancers perform against a changing digital backdrop. The New York-based group performs Chinese dances from ancient to contemporary times.

Photo with no caption

Photo by DAI BING

More than 40 dancers and an orchestra blending Western and Chinese music will create vignettes showing 5,000 years of Chinese history as told by the Shen Yen Performing Arts troupe in two Knoxville shows.Shen Yen performs at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 and Feb. 13 at the Tennessee Theatre, 604 S. Gay St. Tickets range from $52 to $82 for a balcony seat and from $102 to $122 for orchestra level seats. The two-and-a-half-hour production combines dance, music, movement and drama in presentations of ancient legends to ethnic stories to modern vignettes.

This is Shen Yun's first Knoxville stop although the troupe founded in 2006 and based near New York City has performed in other Tennessee cities.

Shen Yun's dancers perform against a changing digital background. Wearing colorful costumes and using props from fans to parasols, performers tell stories about famous warriors, monks, an audience-favorite monkey king and contemporary Chinese hounded by the Communist government.

An accompanying 40-member orchestra combines Western and Chinese music. The music includes the use of such ancient Chinese instruments as the erhu, also called the double-stringed violin. Between the dances are opera-style solos.

A Shen Yun media spokesman declined an interview, referring the News Sentinel to the company website for information. Shen Yun promotion material says the group is reviving the ancient and "divinely inspired" culture of China. The Shen Yun website says that traditional culture is one the Communist Party in China has spent decades destroying,

The separate dances in a show are each less than 10 minutes. Vignettes include classical Chinese dances whose movements come from various cultural traditions and styles. The program also includes ethnic or folk dances inspired by particular regions, such as Tibet. Dance-dramas from Chinese history and literature tell stories, according to Shen Yun promotional material, from 5,000 years ago to today.

While Shen Yun's colorful brochures and advertisements focus on more ancient times, the show also includes the troupe's contemporary depictions of life in Communist China. Those vignettes focus on, according to information on Shen Yun ticket sites, "modern-dance human rights epics such as that of Falun Dafa."

Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a Chinese spiritual and meditation practice outlawed by the Chinese government; news reports have told of followers being detained or persecuted by Chinese authorities. Shen Yun performances in Tennessee are presented by the Lakeland, Tenn.-based Tennessee Falun Dafa Association. The troupe's website says the "Falun Gong-related dance stories and lyrics" are not political.

Shen Yun began with one company and now has three that tour internationally. It has been never inside Communist China. Its current tour began in December 2012 and will include more than 120 cities through May of this year.

Shen Yun

What: New York-based performance troupe combines music, movement, dance and storiesWhere: Tennessee Theatre, 604 S. Gay St.

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 & Feb. 13

Tickets: $52 or 82 for balcony, $102 or $122 for orchestra level, at www.tennesseetheatre.com

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