Out of This World Experience
I often hear audience members saying that while watching our show, it seems as if they are actually in China, or in a land far, far away. Is this a result of an optical illusion? A byproduct of stagecraft techniques? Partially. With dozens of dancers wearing traditional costumes, musicians livening up the atmosphere with their instruments, and a huge backdrop setting the stage in picturesque landscapes, you can easily forget the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
But you don't need to be sitting in the audience to experience this. I’ve been with Shen Yun for nearly five years now, yet each time we perform I am still mesmerized by the magic of the production. Even after traveling to so many different places on tour, the most memorable are the places we visit during our shows.
Because our performance only lasts a bit over two hours and we cover so many different episodes from 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, we must teleport at the speed of light. Onstage, every dancer seems to radiate with elegance and grandeur. But behind the scenes, as soon as the curtain closes and the music dies down, the dancers run to the the quick-change rooms. The sound of zippers being zipped and Velcro being velcroed constantly rings in my ears. Often, we only have a minute (or less!) to change, evacuate, and get back onstage.
This minute is extremely crucial—putting on a different costume isn't like dressing up for Halloween; it means changing into a new identity. If I am to assume a role onstage, I have to become that person.
Just as every dance has its own style, every character has a unique personality. Suddenly, I’m no longer the person I was 30 seconds ago. I could be a heavenly warrior in one scene and an imperial consort in the next. I have to think the way she would think, and feel how she would feel. It's like slipping into her skin and seeing through her eyes.
I always find it easiest to dance roles that reflect my own personality. But it’s a performer’s job to breathe life into characters, no matter who they are. Rather than trying to show my own nature, I have to find a way to bring out their traits. This is the biggest challenge.
They always seem to encounter things that I would never encounter, and I often don’t have related experiences to draw upon. Monkeys don't usually speak Chinese, men rarely go around shooting down superfluous suns with a bow, and who knew that the man-boar Pigsy, despite his impressive body mass, could defy the laws of gravity and flutter away by flapping his arms and legs?
I don’t know what it’s like to be a heroine fighting on the battlefield, I have never come face to face with death, and I don’t recall being to Heaven and back. Yet every time I step on stage, my imagination whisks me away. I can see the pastoral landscapes of China, my body strains from fending off the enemy, pain seeps through my entire being when I lose someone dear, and I’m overcome with awe and veneration in the presence of Buddhas and Taoists, fairies and deities.
Sometimes it doesn't seem like I am Alison anymore. It’s as if I have lost myself and melted away into another realm.
January 16, 2012