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Shen Yun

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From glowing artistic reviews to political concerns, Shen Yun provides audiences with a provocative evening of gorgeous color and spectacle. Announcing at the outset that this is a show that could not be seen in China today, 5000 years or so of historical and political stories are interpreted in dance and music.

Doing a little homework, it is discovered that Shen Yun is produced and supported by Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, a mostly religious and partly political group banned in China because of its conflicts with the establishment. As a result, some of the scenes in Shen Yun are critical of the persecution of those who challenge the authority of the Chinese leaders.

The show begins with a man and woman introducing each of the segments of the show in both English and Chinese. It is presented similar to a recital, in which groups perform particular numbers. They have colorful name like "Chopsticks Dance of the Mongolian Ladies," "Monkey King and the Skeleton Demon," or "Phoenixes of the Sapphire Paradise." They generally represent a geographical or historical time period or event. Legends or modern heroic tales also figure into the scenes.

A giant screen with video projections provides the backdrop for the various segments. Mostly views of nature, it sometimes is interactive as animated figures fly toward the stage and suddenly pop up for real as actors in scenes. This adds additional liveliness to the proceedings.

With voices nearly as big as the Dolby Theatre where the performance takes place, sopranos accompanied by pianists sing of legends and hope of the future. Dafa is prominent in the first number sung by Yuan Ling. Others are Guang Ling and Min Jiang.

Choreographed principally by Michelle Ren, the female dancers are beautiful and the the male ones powerful and acrobatic. Principal dancers are Lily Wang, Rocky Liao, Songtao Feng, Jason Zhu, Cheryl Lin, and Vicki Cao. Additional choreography is provided by Yungchia Chen, Gu Yuan, Gu Xuan, and Jinman Li, according to the program.

Greatly enhancing the performance is music led by conductor Milen Nachev, a native of Bulgaria who graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia. He has extensive experience in symphonic works, operas, and ballets, notable because each scene has elements of these disciplines.

Each new Shen Yun tour presents new material, so attending each tour would be a fresh look at Chinese culture. Costumes are dazzling, particularly the ones worn by the women dancers. They are embellished with silver, beads, and filmy flowing fabrics that make the moves more graceful.

It is hard to capture the elegance and near pageantry of the dancing. Wisely, the numbers are long enough to convey an idea but are concisely articulated.

Given Westerners lack of exposure to Chinese culture and history, this show is a good entry-level into some aspects of both art and music. It has some humor, provides attention-getting physicality, and fancies up the criticism of the persecutions taking place in China. There is a lot of food for thought amidst the beautiful trappings.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.