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Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 12:52 am

A spectacle of Chinese history and culture

Shen Yun, mixing art and politics, comes to Sangamon Auditorium


The dancers of Shen Yun portray ancient Chinese deities and other cultural ideas.

Five thousand years of Chinese performing arts and culture will take the stage Feb. 9 at Sangamon Auditorium in a multimillion-dollar touring production called Shen Yun (“divine character”) that usually plays in much larger venues such as Radio City Music Hall and the Kennedy Center.

“It’s unusual for Shen Yun to play in a community of this size,” says Joel Chipkar, a consultant for the Mid-USA Falun Dafa Association that presents the show, along with Sound of Hope Radio, which is based in New York and beams shortwave broadcasts into mainland China. “Supporters from the Springfield area felt strongly that the show should be presented here to an audience that would appreciate the beauty and artistry of Chinese culture.”

Staged by three different touring companies that perform in the U.S. and Europe, Shen Yun’s performances have been seen by about a million people over the past four years. Each showcases as many as 60 dancers, singers and musicians.

Chipkar says the show is based on thousands of years of Chinese culture and history played out in 20 different set pieces, each narrated in English and Chinese. Fireworks, drums and projected backdrops are part of the spectacle, with richly costumed performers and a live orchestra presenting classical Chinese, ethnic and folk stories of China’s Dai, Mongolian and other minorities. Various religious and philosophical traditions — Buddhism and Daoism among them — are interpreted in the music and dance.

The digital 3-D backdrops are more than visually stunning scenery; they act as a character, assisting in the storytelling.

“China has such a long history,” he says. “Shen Yun is an explosion of color and high-tech production based on centuries of cultural creativity. “

Not that the show is without controversy.

Some reviewers have questioned whether art or politics is the prime mover, since funding is linked to Falun Gong.

Chipkar, who lives in Toronto, has practiced Falun Gong for 12 years — a practice the Chinese Communist government has banned as an “evil cult.” Chipkar describes it as “a spiritual discipline based on truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.” Within the show are two set pieces that portray persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. Chipkar says the pieces involving Falun Gong are an important window on the realities of modern day China.

The dancers of Shen Yun portray ancient Chinese deities and other cultural ideas.

“There is no deception or proselytizing happening in this show,” he says. “There is only an attempt to fuse different truths in one program and show the spirituality of ancient China. Falun Gong is based on tenets deeply rooted in that spirituality. Shen Yun is also about history and important, undeniable issues facing China today.”

“We believe,” says Chipkar, “the public has the taste and judgment to decide for itself what can and cannot be included in the performing arts arena.

“Human rights should not be a taboo subject. It’s part of China’s history.”

Shen Yun will be presented Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 7:30 p.m. at Sangamon Auditorium. Tickets are available for purchase by calling 800-207-6960 or e-mail ticket@uis.edu.

Julie Cellini of Springfield, a freelance contributor to Illinois Times, frequently reports on the arts.

Click here to see Shen Yun videos

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