Feature Article: Principal Dancer Marilyn Yang
Magnifissance Magazine is France and Canada's leading bilingual luxury lifestyle magazine in Chinese and English, dedicated to bridging East and West through a shared appreciation for the beauty and elegance rooted in both traditions.
In this issue, Magnifissance featured Shen Yun lead dancer Marilyn Yang. Yang has been with Shen Yun since 2016. In 2021, she tied for first place in New Tang Dynasty Television’s International Classical Chinese Dance Competition (senior female division) and first place in the same competition’s junior division in 2018.
From Magnifissance’s: Shen Yun Dancer Marilyn Yang Revives Legendary Tales
Marilyn Yang had a simple wish as she stepped onto the competition stage at the 2021 NTD International Classical Chinese Dance Competition—to honour the story of Wang Zhaojun, one of the most celebrated beauties in Chinese history.
Wang lived more than two thousand years ago and was initially recruited as a palace maiden at the court of Emperor Yuan of the Western Han Dynasty.
In 33 BC, Huhanye, the leader of the Xiongnu nomadic tribes, requested to marry a lady of the imperial court as part of his peace agreement with the emperor. Most young women were unwilling to leave the comforts of the palace to accept the rougher lifestyle of the Xiongnu, but Wang understood the importance of this alliance and stepped forward to volunteer.
When he saw her great beauty, Huhanye was so grateful to the Emperor that he swore firm loyalty to him. Their marriage brought peace and stability to the region for years to come.
“Wang Zhaojun was so magnanimous and generous. She gave up her home for a greater cause—to have her country and people prosper,” says Yang.
The dancer’s choreography for the competition was a multi-layered interpretation of the story, capturing Wang’s wish to balance her personal desires with her duties. Yang’s movements ranged from gentle to bold, capturing the beauty’s conflicting emotions. Her eyes too, told the story through their gaze.
“I wanted to show how she would live her life and adapt to the changes she experienced. She had a husband. She had children, and she had a nation on her shoulders. She took that in, and it became something of strength in her,” Yang says.
Her heartfelt portrayal of Wang’s story earned Yang a gold medal at the global dance competition.
Purity of mind
In reviving traditional Chinese culture, Yang says that Shen Yun performers study the mindset and virtues of China’s legendary figures.
“I think about what I would do if I were in their shoes. Would I be as selfless and heroic as them?” says Yang.
She and her fellow artists strive to uphold these lofty moral standards in their own daily lives. “I think it really helps that we’re practitioners of Falun Dafa—we’re able to keep a calm mindset,” Yang says.
Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a Chinese meditation practice based on the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. Yang hopes that Shen Yun’s performances inspire audiences to reflect upon these values in their own lives.
“The purpose of our art is to bring back important principles, to revive a lost heritage, and to show its beauty to people,” Yang says.
The young dancer feels especially encouraged when people leave the theatre feeling uplifted.
“During tough times, we have people who come and watch the show, and they say they came in one person and they’re leaving the theatre changed. They know they’re going to be better people afterwards.”
“It’s not just life-changing for the audience. It’s life-changing for us because we’re making a difference in people’s lives,” Yang says.
Classical Chinese dance: A perfect art form
Classical Chinese dance aims for artistic perfection and beauty while still allowing for individual expressiveness.
“Chinese dance is like flowing water. Everyone has his own understanding, and there’s no limit to it. People are always diving deeper [into this art form] to make it better without changing it,” Yang says.
Shen Yun is also reviving an ancient Chinese dance technique called “the body leads the hands, and the hips lead the legs.”
“It’s a lost technique, and it’s incredible. We’re honoured that we’re being taught this in Shen Yun Performing Arts,” Yang says.
The technique teaches the dancers to begin their movements from the centre of the body, which increases the quality and expressiveness of the performances.
“It makes your emotions clear and your technique better. You jump higher and you spin faster. It’s something that benefits every aspect of our dance.”
The centre is also where the heart is. “It’s incredibly expressive when you move from your heart and everything comes through your heart,” Yang says.
People in the audience can immediately sense the impact of Shen Yun’s performances.
“We have audience members who say they see so much emotion in these dancers. They might be sitting in the very last row, but they can feel it. They can feel it just by the way the dancer is breathing,” Yang says.
From her experience, classical Chinese dance is an art form with no barriers.
“We have incredible reviews from all cultures because it’s so expressive and so powerful. Just by dancing on stage, we can give so much to an audience,” Yang says.