EDISON SENTINEL: Traditional performance finds wide audiences
CHINESE CALENDAR ENTERING YEAR OF THE OX
Dancers in bright, colorful Chinese costumes danced classic Chinese dance and the orchestra played traditional Chinese music in front of a packed audience at the State Theatre over the weekend to celebrate the Year of the Ox.
The Chinese celebrated the new year on Jan. 26, considered the lunar new year.
The New York-based Divine [Shen Yun] Performing Arts group performed its 2009 "Chinese New Year Spectacular" for the first time in New Jersey, with six shows — three at the State Theatre in New Brunswick and three at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark — Jan. 24-27.
"We have three groups of 100 dancers, including a live orchestra, that travel the world to perform the show," said Kangang (Gregory) Xu, of Edison, who manages one of the tour groups.
While Xu's group is in New Jersey, one group is getting ready to perform in Indianapolis and the other group is in Seoul, South Korea.
"We started touring on Dec. 19 and will continue to tour nonstop, city to city, until April," said Xu.
In the company's 2008 season, the group dazzled over 600,000 audiencemembers at live performances in more than 60 cities on four continents.
The Edison native said that about five years ago he and a couple of friends were thinking about forming a show to bring back the Chinese tradition. Three years later, the Divine [Shen Yun] Performing Arts Group came to fruition.
"In China, when the Communist Party came into power in 1949, some of the culture was lost … there is 5,000 years of history and treasures that we want to bring back," said Xu.
The guiding mission of Divine [Shen Yun] Performing Arts is to rediscover and renew humanity's true, rightful cultural heritage. The company thus creates and performs works that center upon the true, divinely bestowed culture of humankind, and seeks to provide an experience of consummate beauty and goodness.
The show is broken up into two parts that include traditional stories of Mulan, who, disguised as a man, joins the army in place of her aging father; Monk Ji Gong, who has long been remembered for his unorthodox and seemingly crazy manner of doing good works; and tales of the Monkey King, where a Buddhist monk is traveling to India in search of scriptures, joined by an ogre, a pig, and a miraculous monkey they meet along the way, but who get diverted by a demon that assumes the guise of a temptress.
The show also includes soprano Min Jiang, tenor Zheng Ning, soprano Bai Xue, and tenor Tian Ge.
Wendy Su, 19, of Toronto, Canada, who has been with Divine all three years, is one of the principal dancers for the group.
"This show has Chinese classical movements, it is very delicate," she said. "The show is based on belief of truth, compassion and tolerance … right now in China, no religion is allowed in show dances."
Most of the members practice a form of self-cultivation called Falun Gong.
Three years ago, Su's ballet teacher, Tia Zhang, was invited to become a teacher at Divine [Shen Yun].
"She asked if I wanted to join the group," said Su. "I think our show is different from other shows because our purpose is to bring back 5,000 years of Chinese culture … these days we can't see real Chinese culture. The show has a wonderful spirit, beautiful costumes, music, just pure beauty."
Su said that as the group travels, they receive different responses to the show.
"It feels great when the audience is interested in the show," she said.
Yang Xu, 18, of New York, has been with the group as a dancer since it started three years ago.
"The show consists of interesting ethnic dances," she said. "The show spreads Chinese classical dance unlike other performance groups. It highlights many mixes of ballet and acrobatics … it's a mixed performance. This is pure Chinese culture dance … simple and pretty."
Kangang Xu said the company would like to perform the show in China in the future.