Lions and Marble and Faces… Oh My!
A few days ago, I sat through a ten-hour bus ride from Detroit to St. Louis, expecting warmer weather as we headed south. It was a futile fancy this January, and our bus spent most of the day inching through a blinding snowstorm. As night fell, the St. Louis Arch greeted us amidst a backdrop of frozen slush and snow-lined streets.
“Never mind,” I thought to myself, “as long as I stay indoors, it’ll be warm.”
The next morning found me shivering in boots and coat as I waited by the bus outside the theater. I had forgotten something on my seat, but couldn’t get back on to retrieve it until everyone else got off.
“Never mind,” I thought to myself (again), “as long as I get indoors, it’ll be warm.”
This was our first time in one of the Midwest’s most famous historical theaters. Judging from its elaborate facade and old-fashioned ticket office, I could already envision the interior: lit by giant crystal chandeliers, graced by winding marble staircases, adorned with Greek-style paintings sporting smiling cherubs and figures in classical poses. Visions of toasty rooms and antique wall heaters filled my mind with comfort.
Soon I was inside, feeling both warm and surprised. How can one explain the curious mix of East and West that is St. Louis’s Fox Theater? In the lobby, I saw no chandeliers, but lamps with fringed Victorian shades. A pair of golden lions with glowing eyes flanked the wide marble staircase. Sculpted reliefs of flora, fauna, and faces dominated the walls, while rows of marmoreal columns loomed over vases of exotic (albeit artificial) flowers. I entered the theater expecting to find a cozy antique; I ended up stumbling into the tropics of India.
I’m finding out that there are times in life when one encounters the unexpected. For example, I’ve introduced Shen Yun to various people I’ve met on tour. Many of our Western audiences have never seen classical Chinese dance before, much less via Shen Yun performances. Some of the most frequent queries go something like this: “So you’re dancers? Do you do ballet?” “Dances that tell a story, and singing—like a Broadway show?” Yes, no, and not really.
China is home to not just one people, but many—spanning multiple regions, ethnicities, and sub-cultures; and then there all the different historical dynasties. Each has its own share of wonders and beauty, all hidden diamonds in the rough. Each deserves to sparkle, and Shen Yun’s uniquely structured program is the perfect spotlight to let them shine.
Unlike many ballet or Broadway shows, Shen Yun performances have no elaborate sets or lighting effects, but rather a direct, simple approach—just the orchestra, backdrop, singers, and dancers. A typical program consists of short standalone acts, each with its own focus. So when performing, we tell many stories, reflecting values that have endured from Chinese history to the present day. And because our program changes annually, every year brings a new series of surprises.
Stepping into a theater showing Shen Yun is like taking a trip to China in the spring—even if the carpets are adorned with African elephant heads.
February 4, 2011