Monday, 11 March 2013
Shen Yun 2013 - London
Oho! I went to Shen Yun again this year, bringing my Mum along with me, heh heh. Some notable differences this year. As I said in my previous post, it was held in The Barbican Theatre, relatively smaller than the London Coliseum, so I ended up getting us £70 tickets. Bit of a blow, but worth it.
First of all, the Barbican Theatre is a bloody MAZE. You just can't find your way around the place at all! It was both fun and frustrating trying to guess the way, and it wasn't as aesthetically pleasing as the London Coliseum, but never mind. You can't have everything. Well, you can... anyway, you understand my meaning.
We were sat in the front row of the upper circle. I was heavily pleased that I was able to see the orchestra this time. They were brilliant. Plus, I saw two other black people! So we weren't the only ones. I will not lie, that kind of made me feel better.
So, the show.
Now, before I get onto the costumes, choreography, themes and the like, something that has never happened to me before... happened. Haha. Well, there was a girl who was sat two seats to our right. She politely asked us where we got our programmes, and my mother and I told her. Then, when the lights went dark and the show was about to start, two women came along and there was a slight fuss as she was in their seat. So she moved along until she sat on my right, and the ladies sat down, and we thought all was fine. A few minutes later, two more ladies came along and then said she was in their seat, stopping right in front of me and my Mum. Heavily confused, she looked at her ticket and said something to them. The people behind us were muttering and sighing now because, don't forget, it was a cramped space, it was dark, and when people were standing up we couldn't see anything. What had happened was, the girl's seat had been taken by someone else, so she had thought she had to sit somewhere else. By now, I was thinking that I was missing a great deal of the first piece so I leaned over to see if I could help. "What's your seat number?" I whispered. "Seat number 50..." she replied, showing me her ticket. Mentally I thought, that's about 11 seats down from us. I glanced down. Sure enough, all of those seats had people sitting in it. I whispered back to her, "Look, you paid £70 for that seat. That was the seat you chose. Nobody else has the right to sit in it but you, so go and tell them to move, because they didn't pay for your seat." She got up, and left.
Me and my Mum were exchanging glances of disbelief. What are the chances of that happening! But it didn't even end there. The lady who finally had her seat, sitting on my right, was SICK. Yes. She really was. Into some sort of handkerchief or something. I smelt it before I realised it, to be honest. I couldn't believe it. I wanted to ask, "Are you okay?" But it was obvious that she wasn't, and as I didn't have any water to give her or any way to help, I kept quiet. She got up and left soon after, and I felt kinda bad for not being able to do something. I hope she feels better now. (In the interval, her friend passed on a apology from her and said she was watching the show from the Foyer.)
So, yes. That took place throughout the first piece. And I could - not - believe it.
So, the show. I will be honest. I will never forget the opening of Shen Yun 2012, because the use of the drums was so original, striking, and dynamic. As excellent as the opening piece was, titled Descending To The World, it didn't have as much of an impact. Even sitting here now, I am struggling to remember it.
Of course, I had my favorite pieces. When Shoalin Monks Protected The Emperor was HILARIOUS. The way the dancers moved together as a body was so, so striking. I loved the sense of community from the monks, plus the fight scene was really great too (the silent anarchist in me wishes it had gone on for longer, heh). The only thing that made me feel a bit... I don't know, uncomfortable? Disconcerted? Was that the monks were granted permission by the emperor to eat meat after they protected him. But is this not against their religious or spiritual practices? I mean, clearly they wanted to, but I felt uneasy about it. Never mind.
My other FAVOURITE one was The Emperor Journeys To The Moon (Are you spotting the recurring theme? Perhaps I am drawn to Emperors!) which was beautifully crafted. Ironically, both pieces were choreographed by the same person, Gu Yuan. Bravo, Gu Yuan! I thought it was wonderfully done. Plus, the dancer who portrayed the Emperor in this piece had excellent classical technique.
Others that I liked a lot were Tang Dynasty Battleground, with the use of their shields and athleticism. Sand Monk Is Blessed had a really imaginative battle between the ogre, Monkey and Pigsy contrasting with the gentleness of the children at the beginning. The female dancer in purple (or was it yellow...?) and pink and the female dancer in green and blue were very good. As always, the animation on the screen was as funny as it was perfectly timed and original. Dancing For The Gods had some really catchy footwork, A Joyful Harvest had some great choreography, and the story Yang Zhi and his Sabre was portrayed soo well. The dancer playing Yang Zhi balanced the macho and the flowing classical technique really well. I hope that makes sense!
There were some I haven't yet mentioned, which focus on the Falun Dafa practice, and how its practitioners are persecuted in China. It makes me so very sad to think of it. An Unexpected Encounter and Divine Mercy moved me, especially as I have been looking more into Falun Dafa since watching the show last year. Why? Why are people being persecuted for these beliefs? What is so threatening?! There is no word for how appalling it is. 'Appalling' is as close as I can get, and it does no justice to what I mean.
Some acts were very similar to acts from last year, in costume, choreography, and backdrop on the projected screen, like Ancient Elegance, Inspired Dance Of The Yi, An Unexpected Encounter, An Early Spring (with some impressive throwing and catching of the handkerchiefs ) and Han Imperial Air. Some were completely new, such as the narrative pieces; The Emperor Journey's To the Moon, Yang Zhi And His Sabre, Sand Monk Is Blessed, and When Shaolin Monks Protected The Emperor.
There were also more singers this year! I particularly liked tenor Yuan Qu, who sang the song with the line, 'The great river flows east never to return / Situations change as time passes, never to recur'. As we are talking lyrics, there was a really striking line in the Do Not Lose Your Way piece, 'Atheism is a lie / The theory of evolution is a sham / It is the Creator who made mankind'. Also, Haolan Geng came back for an encore, and she sang this wonderful song which I THINK is called Guided By The Gods, with the lyrics 'choke up the pill of delusion you've been forced to swallow'... ? Yeah, that was deep.
But what really struck me was the performance of Xiaochun Qi on the... erhu? That was so, so brilliant. I wish I could see her performance again. Such skill!
Julie and Jared came back to host this year! Well actually it sounded like he said Jerry, but that could have been his accent. Let's call him Jerry anyway. Like last year, they were great. Julie wore this beautiful orange dress after the intermission - looking at it made me happy. Haha! I don't know why I wasn't jealous Probably because I wouldn't look as lovely in it as she did! Ah, so pretty.
Now - costumes! One of my favourite things! All of the costumes for each piece correctly corresponded with the theme. In the opening piece, I believe the female dancers wore these yellow and pink dresses that looked stunning. I think it was in Dancing For The Gods, the dancers wore this skirts in really bold colours that gave a particular feeling to the atmosphere. In Sewing The Flowers Of Heaven, I think the dancers wore pink and white. Along with the smoke effect, it made a strong impact. Finally, Phoenix Fairies had on blue and orange costumes, and on the end of the scarves was a little symbol that could have been a pehonix tear... maybe a Phoenix feather? How is it that it was not my favourite costume, but I remember it better than any of the others?!
Well, that's all I have to say, I think.
Once again, the Shen Yun performance has completely made my day, week and month. It was perfection down to the last degree. The orchestra was incredible too. I can barely imagine how much the company had to train to put on a show like that. My Mum loved it too, especially the tiny footsteps the female dancers took when entering and exiting the stage; in their skirts and dresses, it looked like they were gliding.
FUN FACT: During the interval, my Mum told me that a distant-ish relative was making a family tree, and asking my grandmother some questions about it. She told me (and I am stunned by this knowledge as I had thought I was black through and through) that my great great grandmother was a Chinese lady descended from the Ming Dynasty! Something like that! I was stunned. I must find out more.
I didn't have a dream about Shen Yun as I did last year, so i thought I'd write on a piece that sparked my inspiration: Phoenix Fairies. Jerry spoke a little bit about the Pheonix Fairies (So did Julie, but let's stick with Jerry as he was speaking in English.) but I wasn't paying attention because the moment he said Phoenix Fairies my mind was very far away. I imagine that the concept is very different in Chinese, but I was trying to merge my idea of a 'pheonix' and of a 'fairy'. What sort of creature would that be?! What would it look like?
It reminded me of a story I created long ago, of two powerful spirits descending from heaven and taking human forms to restore balance to Earth. One was the dragon, who embodied the human male, an aspect of Yang. The other, taking the form of the human female and projecting Yin, was the Phoenix.
Ruler Of Heaven, Prince Of Earth, and Phoenix Fairies
Grass swayed and stretched to the sky, bending gently for the wind. The lone traveller was completely hidden in the sea of green, so still and silent in his contemplation, that only the spirits would be able to sense him there. Nature ambled aimlessly around him, taking many different forms, rolling like the wind, turning like petals, bending like grass, wandering like deer. It did not merely seem to happen around him, but happen through him. So still was he, that he became a part of nature, and nature saw no difference.
He remembered when he had first begun to meditate - it had been forced upon him by his masters and teachers, who tried as best they could to explain what it meant. At first, it had felt like waiting, counting every minute and second and waiting for it to end. It then felt more like sleeping sitting up. After years of training with his longsword, dreading the day when we would use it against another man for real, meditation suddenly became a reset button. He would refresh himself spiritually, and when he fell back to Earth, he was a man anew.
Sometimes, he would ask the Great Dragon to guide his way.
Endless hours he sat hidden in the grassy fields of Holy Mountain. The waters from the Heavenly Pool had blessed this earth, and life at the very spot would never end. The traveller would not have even noticed if another person walked right up to and him shouted in his face. He was not on Earth now - but somewhere between Earth and Heaven, being purified by the spirits that guarded the path between.
But suddenly, he felt a tug of energy. He was unsure he could even call it energy. It dawned on him as the most beautiful feeling, like falling in love, or experiencing a wave of euphoria. So pure was the feeling, that every earthy concern was immediately released from his body. With nothing now holding him to Earth, his human body slumped between the reeds of grass and his spirit made haste to join those already guarding the path between.
"No!" commanded a voice. "You cannot yet depart Earth, I need you here. Return!"
The merging of his spirit and body was so quick, so fast and jolting that he was gasping for air when his eyes opened, his face against the dirt. He stumbled to his feet and whipped around, his face being beaten by the wind as he finally saw a figure standing a few feet away, dressed in black and red, with a scarlet sash tied around his waist, the ends dancing with the winds. The traveller could made out the small bagua symbol on the end of this figure's scarlet sash. And this figure... radiated the 'feeling'. Even just a step closer made in intensify twofold.
"It is you..." the traveller whispered.
"Yes. It is I. Do you know who I am?"
The traveller bowed, trying to remember respect above his awe. "I know you are a being of great power. That is all I need to know. Was it you who spoke to me, Great One?"
"Yes." The figure lowered it's head. The traveller felt the energy of his companion enfold around him, like a careful stream of fire coursing through space without burning a single thing. "Mortal. You cannot depart just yet. You have something to show me."
"Me, Great One?" The traveller was in disbelief, barely knowing where to look, what to say or how to act. "I have not perfected a single thing I have learnt throughout my life. Surely, I have nothing of value to show you, Great One."
The figure smiled. It was a bemused smile that lit up a godly, perfectly structured face, and beneath brilliant eyes, its expression was complete. "Show me the Dragon's Grace."
The traveller's eyes widened with surprise. He bowed again. "I haven't performed the Dragon's Grace in many years, Great One. But... of course."
The traveller, having no belongings to place aside, began immediately. Dragon's Grace was a very old sequence, and it remained undecided whether it was a fighting technique or a dance. As he moved, each slice and strike of the air that he made with his arms and legs, the traveller grew more exhilarated, honoured and presenting his knowledge to a clearly powerful spirit, so powerful that it could disguise itself in human form so convincingly, save the energy it emitted. When he reached the ending, he stopped with a sudden glance around him. Creatures formed a circle around him, gazing eagerly at his movements. Their skin was coloured amber, their stomachs silky smooth but their backs scaly and tough. Hair cascaded down to the waist of each creature in shades bluer than an iris, bluer than the sea. Their eyes glinted gold and happy.
"More?" the traveller murmured. "Great One, what are these creatures?"
The figure laughed, a laugh so strong and invigorating that the creature shrieked with delight in response tossing their blue hair and dancing in circles. "The Phoenix Fairies much enjoyed your performance, mortal. I had suspected your spirit had such strength. Your Dragon's Grace drew them closer to you."
"Great One, I am certain that it was your presence that drew them near." the traveller said with a bow, a smile upon his face, both delighted, yet as humble as he could make it.
"No, mortal. They have always been here with you. You see them now because of my presence, but they had already been here with you. They are the servants of my beloved, the Phoenix They were once part of the Celestial Order that governed the place of mortals, of spirits and of Gods, both on Earth and in each and every heaven. But their love for the Phoenix made them follow her to Earth, and here they continue their heavenly work, keeping harmony, balance and order in a world so bent on descending into anarchy and chaos."
As the figure spoke, it's human shape began to morph into something else, a creature both awesome and terrible, both monstrous and magnificent. Every Phoenix Fairy created noise of such a scale, that the traveller thought it must be a song of worship, perhaps vocal applause. The figure's skin turned as black as night, with those brilliant eyes shifting from oak to jade. The traveller, scarcely daring to breathe, could not stop his eyes following the transformation. Hands became claws, and hair became billowing jet-coloured fire that did not extinguish. The Phoenix Fairies fell silent, but swayed in worship. The figure honestly looked... like a cross between a human and a dragon.
"Your spirit it strong, and pure. You have killed no man, and followed the teachings of Sander the Scholar ardently. I have made you aware of these Phoenix Fairies as very soon, you will need their protection. Continue to remain pure, and you will always be protected by them. For although humans are quicker to recognise a bad moment that takes place in your life - every moment that has been good, that had made you smile, whether you count your blessings or not - they are the cause."
The above work belongs to S.K., written on 11th March 2013.