Okay, so you’re trapped under a mountain. All odds are against you—what do you do? Be
thankful that you let your son play with axes when he was a kid. This ancient Chinese legend is a
Romeo and Juliet-meets-Achilles story.
This tale, which has been brought to life by Shen Yun Performing Arts, begins with a bright
young scholar wondering through the woods. He stops to rest at a secluded temple deep in the
mountains. There, he notices a statue of the most magnificent goddess he has ever seen, and
composes a poem praising her ethereal beauty. The goddess is so moved by the litterateur’s verse
that she defies heavenly decrees and descends to the mortal world to meet this young man. The
two fall hopelessly in love, marry, and give birth to a son—the demigod Chen Xiang.
But defying the laws of heaven forbidding deities from marrying humans comes at a price.
When the goddess’s brother, a powerful three-eyed god, discovers what his little sister has done,
he is outraged. Taking heaven’s law into his own hands, he comes down to earth, snatches his
goddess-sister, and hurls her under one of China’s most sacred mountains, Mount Hua. This is
the very mountain where the young lover wrote his poem.
As the dust settles, father is nowhere to be found, mother is trapped under a ginormous
mountain, and Chen Xiang, still only a child, is left all alone. The boy starts roaming the land
in search for a way to rescue his mother. Hungry and tired he finally stumbles upon an old
Taoist master. The sage sees that Chen is not an ordinary child and takes him under his wing. He
teaches him the sacred Taoist ways and martial arts, training the boy day and night for sixteen
years. Finally Chen’s training is complete and the old Taoist bestows upon him a magic axe.
With his trusty axe and years of martial arts training under his belt, Chen returns to Mount Hua
to rescue his mother—only to find his three-eyed uncle peering down at him from atop the
This story, from Shen Yun’s 2010 production, comes alive on stage. The protagonists don
elaborate and colorful ancient costumes. They glide across the stage and leap through the air
with dramatic flipping techniques. They go from being animated figures on the digital backdrop
to instantly appearing as real, live people on stage in a way that defies reason. The battle that
ensues between the demigod Chen and his menacing uncle is accompanied by memorable music
performed by a live orchestra. And when the boy wins the battle and sets his axe against the
mountain with a loud gong, what was formerly a huge mountain on the projection splits open and
his mother emerges, alive and well.
Bringing back these lost legends is Shen Yun’s forte. The New York-based company excels at
taking these ancient stories and making them accessible to audiences in the West. Its artistic team
does this through the language of music and dance, primarily classical Chinese dance—one of
the richest and most expressive art forms in the world.
Narrators briefly introduce each piece, giving just enough of an introduction to help the
uninitiated understand the story, but not too much as to slow the pace or give away the plot. As
soon as the curtain rises, it is hard not to be swept away to the enchanting world of ancient China
and its legends.
And with 5,000 years of history, traditional Chinese culture provides an abundant treasure trove
of stories and heroes—each typically accompanied by a moral. Shen Yun thus need not worry
about running out of raw material, and the company produces an all-new performance each year.
What will be performed in this year’s show is still a secret. What is known is that, starting in
December, Shen Yun will tour over 100 cities around the world, and will return to Capitol
Theatre Sydney on February 6 -15, 2015. Children must be at least five years old.
This could be made into a textbox:
“It was an extraordinary experience for us and the children… The level of skill, but also the
power of the archetypes and the narratives were startling.” – Cate Blanchett, Academy Award-