A Vis­ual Feast of Haute Cou­ture from An­cient China

Shen Yun dis­plays ex­quis­ite cul­ture of fash­ion 5,000 years in the mak­ing

Toronto Star - - GREATER TORONTO -

Fash­ion was se­ri­ous busi­ness in an­cient China. The right clothes gave off an aura of re­fine­ment and dig­nity. Tra­di­tional cloth­ing em­bod­ied the virtues of Chi­nese an­tiq­uity and con­trib­uted to the cul­ture’s per­cep­tion of self.

For thou­sands of years, gen­er­a­tions of de­sign­ers made fash­ion a fine art, and their cre­ations also be­came an im­por­tant com­po­nent of Chi­nese cul­ture.

Shen Yun Per­form­ing Arts, a New York-based group that tours glob­ally each sea­son, show­cases not only the dance and mu­sic of 5,000 years of Chi­nese his­tory and cul­ture, but also fea­tures the art of fash­ion. Each dance is a ver­i­ta­ble fash­ion show in and of it­self, con­sist­ing of the hand­made haute cou­ture reach­ing across China’s vast ge­ogra­phies and through­out its pe­ri­ods of his­tory.

Dress­ing for Har­mony

Hanfu, the cloth­ing of China’s eth­nic ma­jor­ity, con­sisted of hun­dreds of vari­a­tions. The gar­ments were char­ac­ter­ized by loose gowns, wide sleeves, and flat, open col­lars folded over to the right. Rather than us­ing but­tons or strings, most were kept in place by a sash belt. High hats and wide belts were dis­tin­guish­ing marks of schol­ars and of­fi­cials.

In “The Book of Changes,” or “Yi­jing,” a pas­sage praises the three sov­er­eigns—the Yel­low Em­peror, Yao, and Shun—for “rul­ing with their arms hang­ing in their sleeves.”

These early rulers val­ued har­mony be­tween heaven and earth. As a re­sult, the coun­try stayed largely peace­ful, and they gov­erned with­out wor­ries, their hands lit­er­ally tucked away as they watched the years pass.

Eth­nic At­tire

Eth­nic at­tire is as di­verse as Chi­nese cul­ture it­self, with great dis­par­i­ties based on re­gion or eth­nic­ity. The 55 eth­nic mi­nori­ties lo­cated through­out the coun­try dis­play a mul­ti­tude of styles and an ex­ten­sive range of colours. His­tor­i­cally, the coun­try’s vast­ness, along with the great con­trasts in ge­og­ra­phy and cli­mate, led to the var­i­ous groups de­vel­op­ing very dif­fer­ent forms of dress and adorn­ment. For ex­am­ple, the Ti­betan peo­ple adapted to their en­vi­ron­ment with warm and in­su­lat­ing cloth­ing that is also suit­able to their itin­er­ant life­style.

The sym­bolic Ti­betan chuba, made from sheep­skin, is a long coat that is both prac­ti­cal and fash­ion­able. The coat is large and loose with big open sleeves that can be rolled up in the heat of the day and used as a bed­cover at night.

Tra­di­tional Manchurian Ap­parel

Around the world, one of the gar­ments most of­ten as­so­ci­ated with Chi­nese dress is the qi­pao. Also called the cheongsam or Man­darin gown, it is dis­tin­guished by its high col­lar, nar­row waist, and slit skirt. It can be worn long or short.

But ac­tu­ally, the qi­pao is not a Han Chi­nese in­ven­tion—it is the tra­di­tional ap­parel of the Manchurian peo­ple, who ruled China dur­ing its last dy­nasty, the Qing. Manchu qi­paos favoured hues of blue and pink, with hems and bor­ders in aus­pi­cious white.

Artis­tic In­spi­ra­tion

These cos­tumes and many more can be seen in a Shen Yun per­for­mance. Shen Yun’s cos­tume artists col­lect count­less de­signs of tra­di­tional at­tire and recre­ate hun­dreds of new pieces each sea­son, all in an ar­ray of eye-catch­ing colours. Ev­ery de­tail is given metic­u­lous at­ten­tion and is a re­sult of artis­tic in­spi­ra­tion and care­ful polishing.

The de­sign­ers stress har­monic bal­ance and con­trast. Their ob­jec­tive is an au­then­tic pre­sen­ta­tion of the at­tire that comes from China’s di­vinely in­spired tra­di­tional cul­ture, and a con­sum­mate stage ef­fect.

Shen Yun re­turns to Toronto in Fe­bru­ary 2017 for its 11th sea­son, grac­ing the stage for the first time at the ac­claimed Four Sea­sons Cen­tre. As part of the Cana­dian tour, it will also per­form in Kitch­ener, Hamil­ton, and Mis­sis­sauga in the GTA start­ing Dec. 29. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit ShenYun.com/GTA.

Ascene from Shen Yun’s “Ladies of the Manchu Court,” re­flect­ing im­pe­rial women’s fash­ion dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911).

Adancer in el­e­gant Tang Dy­nasty (618-907) at­tire em­a­nat­ing grace and re­fine­ment.

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