Kristen Ingle is looking forward to Shen Yun 2014 because she had such a great time attending the show at Mahaffey Theater with her daughter last year.
Ingle’s adopted daughter, Macy, was born in China.
Ingle believes Shen Yun provides her 9-year-old a chance to become more familiar with the culture of her birthplace.
“It’s definitely worth seeing,” said Ingle of South Tampa, who is bringing along her mother and some friends who have also adopted two daughters from China. “I like that it tells the stories of the history of China, all of the folklore. And the music — I really liked that they had both Western and Chinese instruments.”
She thinks it’s great entertainment for people of any age. The children like it because it’s so visual, Ingle said.
In fact, Macy said her favorite parts were the costumes and the dancers who performed with teacups on their heads.
“It’s a story told through dance and music,” Ingle said. “The story really comes through.”
Shirley Hu, a volunteer coordinator for Shen Yun, said she first saw the show while living in New York.
“I fell in love with it because it’s about the revival of the traditional Chinese culture, which I truly believe in,” said Hu, a native of Taiwan. “Traditional Chinese culture is about moral values and ethics.”
Shen Yun, which translates into “the beauty of heavenly beings dancing,” is based in New York. It has three touring companies of about 100 members each, which travel through the United States, Asia and Europe.
Hu is handling the logistics for the upcoming Shen Yun 2014 performances Feb. 5 through Feb. 8, at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. The two-and-a-half-hour show, which includes a 15-minute intermission, features about 20 pieces, including dancers accompanied by orchestral music and vocal performances.
The orchestra combines Western classical music along with music from ancient Chinese instruments including the gong, the dizi and the erhu. The dizi is a bamboo flute, and the erhu is a two-stringed instrument, sometimes called a Chinese violin, which dates back 4,000 years.
When Chinese and Western music come together, they produce what Hu describes as “a glorious sound.”
Orchestral music plays as dancers glide gracefully across the stage, using the movement of their body, as well as facial expressions, to tell stories. The dances incorporate high-flying leaps, spins and acrobatic moves, but are much more than sheer technique, according to interviews by principal dancers on YouTube videos.
Shen Yun performers seek to convey a spiritual connection behind each dance movement and musical note, they said. They seek to express of joy, sorrow, delight, grief, anger, illness and majesty by immersing themselves into the mindset and emotions of the characters they portray.
“You can actually see the facial expressions,” Hu said. “I always feel what makes the show so successful is because of the spirituality behind it.”
The pieces move from one story to another, sharing Chinese folklore and legends, as well as true stories.
The dancers wear handmade costumes, representing everything from the Tang Dynasty’s Raiment of Rainbows and feathers to imperial dragon robes, coronets and cloud caps. They wear colorful flowing robes, as well as the attire of the Manchurian Tibet, Dai, Mongol and Uyghur ethnic groups.
More than 400 costumes are used in a single show, Hu said.
The show also uses a 3-D backdrop to help bring stories to life.
Performers tour for half of the year then return to New York to prepare for the next year’s tour. It takes thousands of hours to hone their technique and learn the choreography. Each year, they tour with an entirely new show.
“Every year, I look forward to different stories,” Hu said. “A lot of the stories are the stories I was taught by my mom.”
WHAT: Shen Yun, a production that revives 5,000 years of Chinese culture through music and dance
WHERE: The Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S., St. Petersburg
WHEN: Feb. 5-8
COST: Tickets range from $52.50 to $202.50