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Shen Yun Performing Arts

Wang Theatre

February 11–13

Shen Yun Performing Arts troupe dazzled its Boston audience at the Citi Performing Arts Center’s Wang Theatre in three evening performances from Friday, Feb. 11 to Sunday, Feb. 13.

The New York-based Chinese performing arts company, previously known as Divine Performing Arts, is currently touring with around 60 members. Founded in 2006, the Shen Yun troupe is associated with the Falun Gong, a spiritual practice based on Buddhist and Taoist teachings. Almost all of its members practice Falun Gong. The name Shen Yun directly translates to “the beauty of divine beings dancing.” Through dance and song, the group hopes to “revive the spirit of traditional Chinese culture,” according to their website.

Shen Yun dazzled its audience in its opening act. The first dance told the Buddhist legends of creation from the highest heavens down to the dusty plateaus of the Middle Kingdom. Female dancers dressed as golden flying apsaras floated across the stage, ushering in wushu acrobats dressed as deities in red armor. The dancers signaled the opening of the Heavenly Gates, displayed on a large CGI screen that stretched across the back of the stage. The animated backdrop showed these divine beings ascending to the heavens, thus concluding the first act.

The majority of the Shen Yun consists of classical Chinese, ethnic, folk, and story-based dances infused with history, spirituality, and grace. Each year, the company unveils a new show that consists of 22 vignettes of dance and song. This year, the show featured a Mongolian dance of galloping horsemen, a Yi Nisu tribal dance of girls flicking red boxes, and a narrative dance from Journey to the West, a classic Chinese novel of the Ming Dynasty. The animated backdrops transported the performers and audience from Mongolian prairies to lush forest to celestial palaces.

The difficult choreography attests to the dancers’ skills in acting, flexibility, and acrobatics. Each dance displayed contortions, high aerial jumps, traveling spins, handsprings, and much more. While the level of technique of the dancers was impressive, however, the expected range of acrobatic moves in each piece left the choreography feeling somewhat repetitive. Nevertheless, the precision and coordination of each dancer drew gasps and ovations from the crowd.

One of the most striking features was Shen Yun’s hundreds of colorful costumes. Each garment and headdress was hand-made and tailored to match themes of the dynasties and ethnic groups represented by the dances.

What sets Shen Yun apart from other Chinese dance troupes is its live music accompaniment. The ensemble consists of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, along with traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu and pipa. The all-original compositions blend Eastern and Western instruments in seamless harmony.

The 2011 tour marks the group’s fifth season. Shen Yun will be performing across the U.S. and at several venues oversees. The group will appear in Memphis, Tennessee on Saturday.