By Sally Deering
It may seem like an adventurous task – presenting 5,000 years of Chinese culture in one show – and that’s exactly what Shen Yun 2012 sets out to do on Wednesday Jan. 11th –to – Sun, Jan. 15th, at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center. Prepare to be dazzled!
Told through dance, music and song and performed in more than 100 cities around the world, Shen Yun is a collection of short performance pieces that interpret the legends of Chinese culture’s creation and history over 5,000 years.
One of the writers and Master of Ceremonies is Leeshai Lemish, who has been with the Shen Yun Performing Arts troupe, based in Orange County, New York, since its inception in 2006. Lemish has emceed more than 400 Shen Yun performances in English and Chinese, has traveled with the show all over the world and calls Jersey City home.
“We have 90 performers and that includes a dance company – 40 to 50 dancers – a full orchestra, vocalists, technical crew and we have three companies that size that tour at the same time in the states and all over the world, ” Lemish says.
Shen Yun features traditional Chinese culture and each year it’s a brand new show of dancers in beautiful costumes; singers and an orchestra that blends the sounds of East and West with thunderous drums and classical Chinese instruments. Shen Yun is a visual spectacle of music and dance performed in front of spectacularly vivid and colorful backdrops.
“One of the themes in the show is the ancient belief that Chinese culture was divinely inspired and passed down from the heavens,” Lemish says. “You see it through the ethnic and folk dances – loyalty and courage, compassion and tolerance – and all the themes that run through folk tales. This culture has five thousand years of history and since the Cultural Revolution a lot of this has been destroyed.”
Although Shen Yun performs all over the world – this year Shen Yun performs at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco and Le Palais Des Congres in Paris, France – China has banned it.
“The company is not allowed to perform in China,” Lemish says. “The Regime, there 60 years, is trying to destroy Chinese culture. In the Cultural Revolution they were targeting traditional culture and thousands of years have been wiped out.”
Shen Yun preserves Chinese heritage through the traditional dance, music, costumes and storytelling. The folk tales and legends; the idea of self-refinement where people in their daily lives try to align themselves in a higher purpose and connect the human realm with the heavenly realm, this is the spiritual side to the performance Lemish says. And those stories are told through Classical Chinese dance and music with traditional Chinese instruments and costumes like imperial dragon robes, warriors’ armor and attire worn by the Manchurian, Tibetan, Dai, Mongol, and Uyghur groups.
An excerpt posted from the company’s website, www.shenyunperformingarts.org explains the history of the stories told in Shen Yun: “Shen Yun’s mini-drama pieces draw upon stories and legends that span China’s history from the Yellow Emperor and through the Tan and Song dynasties and all the way to the modern day. A unique feature of Chinese civilization is that its history has been documented and passed down uninterrupted for 5,000 years, sometimes in vivid detail. This provides Shen Yun with vast source material, making it possible to revive this ancient culture on a present-stage.
In less than ten minutes, Shen Yun dances recount ancient myths, bygone heroes, or celestial paradises. Whether set in the past or in contemporary China, every dance embodies traditional Chinese values. Ideals of loyalty, filial piety and veneration for the divine are cherished and celebrated. Heroes are extolled for their compassion and tolerance as much as (for) their courage or determination when facing adversity.”
“China is a big part of all consciousness, ” Lemish says. “Few people in the west know much about it. We may know about the human rights issues, but go all the way back to the traditions. If you understand the history and background, you have a much stronger context to understand. ”
Lemish, who was born in Ohio and grew up in Israel – co-hosted the kids’ TV show “Learning Chinese is Fun,” produced in Taiwan, and has published articles on China in English and Chinese. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Asian Studies from Pomona College in Claremont, California and a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Lemish says his passion for Chinese culture goes back to his college days playing baseball.
“I was a pitcher and I was getting into the mental side of the game, ” Lemish says. “All top atheletes in any sport say it’s 90 percent mental. I tried guided imagery and meditation, yoga, Zen and Tai Chi, I became interested in Chinese philosophy, religion and culture. ”
In 2011, Shen Yun performed for Royals in London and to packed houses in Asia, and received standing ovations at Lincoln Center in New York. Visit the website and you’ll read reviews by stars like Cate Blanchett: “…it was exquisitely beautiful,” and fashion designer Donna Karen who said, “Shen Yun is like taking a journey to China.”
Shen Yun performs at Lincoln Center Jan 11th through the 15th and then the show travels on to Washington D.C., San Francisco and Paris, France. It may not be welcome in China, yet, but Shen Yun has a loyal following here in the states and around the world, offering us westerners a glimpse into a culture whose calendar dates back 3,000 years from ours. That, in itself, is interesting — add music, dance, costumes and sets – and that’s Shen Yun.
Wed. Jan, 11th – Sun. 15, 2012
Shen Yun 2012
Lincoln Center The David H. Koch Theater
20 Lincoln Center New York, NY 10023
For more info : 1-888-974-3698