Shen Yun, a New York-based performing arts company, makes its way back to Sacramento this month with a new show of music and classical, folk and story-based dances. The troupe’s mission hasn’t changed since its founding in 2006 by practitioners of Falun Gong: reviving 5,000 years of civilization.
When Mao Zedong’s Communist regime seized power in China in 1949, one of the stated goals of its Cultural Revolution was to eradicate the Old Customs, Old Habits, Old Ideas and Old Culture – known as the end of the four olds.
Sacramento landscape artist Cathy Wei gradually discovered just how much history and culture had been altered or covered up by the Chinese government after she emigrated from Beijing 20 years ago. As a volunteer for the local Falun Dafa Association chapter, which is presenting Shen Yun in Sacramento and the Bay Area, she is determined to bring Chinese tradition back to the forefront.
Shen Yun draws on a large repertoire of Chinese legends, fables, mini-dramas and ethnic and folk dances to remind audiences around the world about an ancient heritage, Wei said.
Some Shen Yun content taps the heritage of Neolithic societies from around 3000 BCE, while some is as new as the last of the imperial dynasties in 1911. It is depicted in more than 20 vignettes over two and a half hours. The troupe’s full-size philharmonic orchestra includes both eastern and western instruments.
“Many Chinese people believe their culture is divinely inspired, and there are all these legends of how divine beings came and imparted culture,” she said. According to that belief discipline, China’s original calligraphy, medicine and music is innately connected and was bestowed by heavenly ancestors.
All of that “is kind of lost now in China,” Wei said. “People don’t believe that anymore.
“I feel saddened in a way that China has lost this grand thing,” Wei said, adding that she’d love to see her home country embrace its cultural roots. “There’s nothing we do or that Shen Yun does that’s trying to be against (the Chinese people); we’re just trying to bring back the real spirit of China.”
Shen Yun performances have included well-known tales like the Ballad of Mulan, as well as less-famous stories such as the Monkey King and the Skeleton Demon from the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West.” Each vignette is introduced by an emcee, who provides background.
Much of these stagings are fantastical in nature, and modern-day technology is used to communicate the Chinese chronicles, said Laurie Gorham, another Sacramento-area Falun Dafa volunteer.
She described the performances a two hours “of beauty and a lot of goodness.”
“I think in the world today, people are just seeking that out somewhere. … When they walk into a Shen Yun performance, it’s like going into a pure land.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13
Where: Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento
Information: 888-974-3698; www.shenyunperformingarts.org