PENNLIVE.COM: Chinese culture on state at Merriam Theater
Without question, the most colorful and vibrant multimedia stage presentation to visit Philadelphia on a regular basis is the annual touring production by Shen Yun Performing Arts. Tonight through Feb. 8, the latest edition of the cultural and entertaining show will be presented at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia.
“This show is completely new,” said the show’s Master of Ceremonies Leeshai Lemish, during a recent phone interview. “There are some ethnic groups represented in this show that haven’t been seen before.
“The lead dancers have shifted companies so there are a lot of different dynamics. Some scenes depicting the evolution of Chinese culture are new. People give different answers when asked what the highlights are. The stories are some of the highlights – and the humor.”
The production, which is a breathtaking spectacular that delights audiences everywhere, features colorful costumes, graceful dancing and lively drums. It is a showcase for traditional Chinese culture with all original songs and original dances – many of which are based on traditional pieces.
The touring cast features outstanding vocalists, elegant classical Chinese dance, a variety of traditional music along with an impressive stage design, gorgeous scenery and elaborate costumes. It is a big multi-media show with inventive animation.
And, the Shen Yun orchestra accomplishes the difficult task of blending Eastern and Western instruments through original scores.
“Our new conductor Wen Wen Chou is really something,” said Lemish, an Ohio-born, Israeli-raised, Chinese-educated citizen of the world. “We have Chinese instruments such as the pipa, the bamboo flute, the erhu and the suona.
“The compositions are played the same as with all orchestras with a set foundation. But, with this show, the melodies are played by a full western orchestra and the leads by Chinese instruments.”
Lemish, who has toured with Shen Yun Performing Arts for a number of years, has an interesting resume. He and his parents (an Israeli mom and American dad) moved to Israel when he was five. Later, he returned to the states when his mother took a sabbatical to teach at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from Lower Merion High School, Lemish studied Chinese culture and language at Pomona College in California.
He returned to Israel where he was a pitcher for the Israel National Team and also served in the Israeli Army. Just over 10 years ago, Lemish was imprisoned overnight in China for taking part in an international protest at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and subsequently admonished not to return to China.
“There are pieces in the Shen Yun Performing Arts shows that deal with the persecution of Falun Gong (a spiritual discipline that is similar to Buddhism),” said Lemish. “People think that things like this are in the past in China but they are not.
“Our show makes people realize what is still going on over there. A lot of Chinese culture has been destroyed by the regime there now. As in past shows, the theme is reviving 5,000 years of Chinese culture.”