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|Headquarters||Cuddebackville, New York|
|Divisions||New York Company, International Company, Touring Company|
|Shen Yun Performing Arts|
Shen Yun was founded in 2006 by practitioners of Falun Gong, the spiritual discipline, with the mission of reviving "the essence of 5000 years of Chinese culture," which it states to have been nearly destroyed by the Chinese government. Performances around the world are hosted by local Falun Dafa Associations.
The group is composed of four performing arts companies: The New York Company, The Touring Company, and the International Company, with of a total of over 200 performers. For seven months a year, Shen Yun Performing Arts tours to over 130 cities across Europe, North America, Oceania, and Asia. Shen Yun's shows have been staged in several leading theaters, including New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, London’s Royal Festival Hall, Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center, Paris' Le Palais de Congrès. The company has performed extensively in Taiwan, but has yet to perform in Mainland China or Hong Kong. The show's acts and production staff are trained at Shen Yun’s headquarters in Cuddebackville, in Orange County, New York.
HistoryExpatriate Chinese Falun Gong practitioners living in North America founded Shen Yun in 2006 in New York. The company’s first tour took place in 2007, when the company comprised 90 dancers, musicians, soloists and production staff. Shen Yun states that its underlying mission is to "revive the essence of 5000 years of Chinese culture", which it asserts to have been nearly demolished by the Chinese Communist government. Initially the shows were titled "Chinese Spectacular", "Holiday Wonders", Chinese New Year Splendor, and "Divine Performing Arts", but now the company performs under the name "Shen Yun." As of 2009, Shen Yun had expanded to three full companies and orchestras that tour the world simultaneously. By the end of the 2010 season, approximately one million people had seen the troupe perform.
ContentEach year, Shen Yun creates original productions lasting 2.5 hours and consisting of approximately 20 vignettes featuring classical Chinese dance and ethnic dance, as well as solo musicians and operatic singing. Before each act, bilingual MCs introduce the upcoming performance in Chinese and in local languages.
DanceEach touring company consists of approximately 60 male and female dancers, and large-scale group dance is at the center of Shen Yun productions. The shows mainly feature what is described on the company’s website as "classical Chinese dance" – a comprehensive dance system passed down through thousands of years and which is recognizable in part for its extensive use of acrobatic and tumbling techniques, forms and postures.
Shen Yun’s repertoire draws on stories from Chinese history and legends, such as legend of Mulan, Journey to the West and Outlaws of the Marsh. It also depicts “the story of Falun Gong today”. During the 2010 production, for instance, at least two out of 16 scenes depicted the "persecution and murder of Falun Gong practitioners" in contemporary China, including the beating of a young mother to death, and the jailing of a Falun Gong protester. In addition to classical Chinese dance, Shen Yun also draws inspiration from the spirit of various ethnicities, including Yi, Miao, and Mongolian dance.
Shen Yun describes classical Chinese dance as comprising three core components: bearing (yun), form, and technical skill. Technical skill describes the physical techniques of jumping, flipping, and leaping. Form encompasses the subtle expressive movements and postures that make up Chinese dance. Finally, bearing is described by Shen Yun as referring to the "inner spirit…something resembling cultural DNA or an ethnic flavor" that allows the dancer's emotional state to be conveyed. Because the "bearing" (yun) of classical Chinese dance is related to a society's culture, some of what makes up the distinct Chinese bearing has been "lost in the process" since the cultural changes of the Communist revolution, according to Shen Yun choreographer Vina Lee. Lee relates that dancers must "refine their moral character" in order to "convey the transcendence and spiritual realm that is the very soul of Chinese culture".
MusicShen Yun dances are accompanied by a Western philharmonic orchestra that integrates several traditional Chinese instruments, including the pipa, suona, dizi, guzheng, and a variety of Chinese percussion instruments. There are solo performances featuring Chinese instruments such as the erhu. Interspersed between dance sequences are operatic singers performing songs which sometimes invoke spiritual or religious themes, including references to the Falun Gong faith. A performance in 2007, for instance, included reference to the Chakravartin, a figure in Buddhism who turns the wheel of Dharma.
The company counts a number of noted musicians among its ranks. Three performers—flutist Ningfang Chen, erhuist Mei Xuan and tenor Guan Guimin—were recipients of the Chinese Ministry of Culture’s “National First Class Performer” awards. Prior to joining Shen Yun, Guan Guimin was well known in China for his work on soundtracks for over 50 movies and television shows. Other notable performers include Erhu soloist Xiaochun Qi.
Costume and backdropsShen Yun’s dancers perform wearing intricate costumes, often accompanied by a variety of props. Some costumes are intended to imitate the dress various ethnicities, while other depict ancient Chinese court dancers, soldiers, or characters from classic stories. Props include colorful handkerchiefs, drums, fans, chopsticks, or silk scarves.
Each Shen Yun piece is set against a digitally projected backdrop, usually depicting landscapes such as Mongolian grasslands, imperial courts, ancient villages, temples, or mountains. Not all the backdrops are static; some contain moving elements that integrate with the performance.