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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Shen Yun Chinese dancers at Cobb Energy Centre

shenyun1

A dancer performs with Shen Yun, a Chinese music and dance troupe that comes to Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre this week.

Shen Yun Performing Art, a troupe of Chinese dancers and musicians, has been to Atlanta before, but only this time are they going for the mass market.

But a scathing opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun calls the production “creepy” and the backdrops “garish,” but mostly seems to have a problem with the show’s politics.

I haven’t seen it, but for those who’ve seen it in the past: is it as much spectacle as it the ubiquitous billboards say it is? Did the message matter more than the music and dance?

Here’s a promo video:

Want to go? Shen Yun performs. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16, 2 p.m. Jan. 17. $39-$12o. Cobb Energy Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 770-916-2800, www.cobbenergycentre.com.

For instant update, follow @insideaccess on Twitter.

21 comments Add your comment

Margaret Witten

January 15th, 2010
9:22 am

Dear Mr. Pousner:

I’d like to comment on your write-up of the Shen Yun dance troupe in the AJC. I haven’t seen the show this year and it may be different than last year’s show, but I doubt it. Last year, a friend gave me a couple of tickets to the show, so my girlfriend and I went. After a couple of the performance dances, and especially after the operatic numbers (sung in Chinese, with super-titles in English), we began to realize that something was going on. (Also the producers showed a great interest in video taping our reactions to the show, while they prohibited any photography of the show itself.) It became very clear by the end of the show that the event was sponsored by the Falung Gong and that the show really amounted to a propaganda campaign against the Chinese government. In fact I was under the impression that many of the people in the audience were followers of the Falung Gong and may not have paid for their tickets.

Far be it from me to defend the Communist Chinese government, but I do think we were “sold” a bill of goods. Whether or not the Chinese government is maltreating the Falung Gong, we deserved to be told that we were being entertained (and paying for the privilege, as my friend did pay $100 per ticket for the show!) for the purpose of being indoctrinated into the philosophy and the plight of the Falung Gong.

As I said, maybe the show is different this year, but last year, it was pretty clear to us that the tickets for this show were being sold under false pretenses, even if for a good cause (although I’m not sure of that given the experience). As a reporter, you have a responsibility to truly and accurately report. Sometimes you find the stories, other times the stories find you. You may be saying to yourself, “Heck, I’m the entertainment editor what do I know from politics?” But from reading your write-up (which could, to some, appear to be a review), I think you were “had” if you didn’t notice or weren’t made aware of what was going on. And I think you contribute to the deceit if you don’t do a little investigating and find out what is really going on in the Energy Center.

I note that, in a check of the AJC today, there is a reference to a negative review from a Vancouver newspaper. I am glad to see that the AJC has picked up that reference. I would hope that the AJC could do a better job, in the future, of making it clear that it was providing information without having actually seen a performance, or, in the alternative, informing the public of the true nature of a performance (when something is so political.)

Best Regards,

Dan Franklin
Margaret Witten

Marilee Coughlin

January 18th, 2010
11:48 am

My friedn and i were taken in by the beautiful ads and flyers handed out at the mall – we bought tickets to see the show on Sunday, January 17th. While the dancers are fabulous, and the costumes are gorgeous, I felt like I was at a revival or brain-washing session. The operatic performances were Falun Gong “hymns” – with the lyrics in English on the large screen. The two pieces showing the oppression of the Falun Gong in China were strange – it was billed as a family show, but I question whether children should see a show where a mother and child are beaten by black-shirted men and the mother dragged off stage, apparently dead – then on the garish screen, she can be seen “ascending” accompanied by monks. Creepy sums up parts of the show quite well.

We really felt like we had been mislead – this was religious / polical propaganda presented to an unsuspecting public as entertainment.

Marilee Coughlin

KJ

January 19th, 2010
8:31 am

Cheesy with a side of creepy. The giant projection screen behind the dancers being one of the main “distractions” from the show. It reminded me of a powerpoint presentation on an 80 foot monitor, and at times I felt I was at Six Flags, watching summer interns put on a musical. Although people have used books, poetry, plays and movies for political influence, I agree that this event was not advertised as such. Even adding a sentence to the brochure that said “experiencing the beauty and the political struggle within China”, at least we’d have had a clue that we’re going to get more than pretty costumes and dancing (like beating a mother to death in front of her daughter, set to music). There were some great dancers on the stage, I won’t argue that some of the spins, flips and dance steps were truly beautiful to watch, but I did feel that the many of the scenes were fairly repetitive and my eyelids grew heavy during a couple acts. I would have rather watched a high school drumline that watch their drummer routine, and I wish they would have had an ancient chinese archer hitting moving targets from 100 feet rather than the 20 or so dancing archers twanging their empty bows (yawn).

We were entertained, but we wouldn’t go again.

My recommendation for the show’s creators.. If you want to focus on the message and political struggle, do it. The world would write rave reviews about a play or show that took an issue straight on. You probably couldn’t do the show in China or that would be the last show, but I believe the rest of the world prefers an “in your face” approach. State your message and stir it up.

Jamie Gumbrecht

January 19th, 2010
9:17 am

Interesting point, KJ — as I mentioned, this is the first time the show has marketed itself outside Asian communities in Atlanta. This could be a case of misleading audiences, as some suggest, or it could be a miscalculation of how to approach a broader U.S. audience. I think you’re right — there are a lot of people that might be interested in something more obviously political, but most wouldn’t have known from the billboards or commercials that this show includes any of it.

RJ

January 19th, 2010
12:59 pm

Sadly, I took my wife last Friday to see this show. As others have said, it was a mediocre performance which did not approach the glowing description on the website for the Cobb Energy Centre. Yet, most unnerving was the fact that it is a propaganda machine for the Falun Gong.

We left early (at the intermission), and, as we were walking down the stairs and discussing the show, a Chinese-descent woman walking down at the same time heard me say something about a “message”. She began to beam like a moonie, smiling and staring straight at me, pacing us as we walked down the stairs. I stopped saying anything substantive, but she kept staring, making us uncomfortable, so I finally said “hello”. She then emphasized that there was, indeed, a message in all of the music– as if that shouldn’t be obvious to anyone who is not in a vegitative state. Perfect end to a perfect night.

I wrote a scathing email to the Cobb Energy Centre on Saturday asking it is the official policy of the same to mislead audiences with regard to both the substance and purpose of performances hosted there. In part I wrote:

“Irregardless of the ‘merits’ of this movement [Falun Gong], it is reprehensible that such a fine facility should act as a shill for a group officially described as a cult. At the very least, an honest declaration of the intent of the show was in order. Unfortunately, your deceptive obscuring of the true purpose of the performance shows complicity with both their motivation and methods. I am more than disappointed: I feel personally deceived.”

As yet, no response. They apparently are taking a “caveat emptor” stance, and feel they bear no personal responsibility for both hiding the purpose of the show and exaggerating the “beauty” of the spectacle to a degree that makes hyperbole look like understatement.

I’d love to see the AJC interview officials at the Cobb Energy Centre, ask them why they feel free to deceive people in this way. This is, according to their website, the third year Shen Yun has performed there. Pleading they were unaware of the content would be a difficult position to defend. At the very least, someone in the media needs to make sure no one is innocently taken in by this group again.

P.S. Here is another review I found after-the-fact. It really hits the nail on the head: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/dance/3671451/Shen-Yun-Propaganda-as-entertainment.html

Jamie Gumbrecht

January 19th, 2010
1:44 pm

RJ and others — I put a call into the spokeswoman for Cobb Energy Centre to check on the feedback they’re getting and what response they’ve got. I’ll let you know when I hear something.

RJ

January 19th, 2010
2:35 pm

Thanks, Jamie. It will be very interesting to hear what they have to say!

Northern Californian

January 20th, 2010
4:56 pm

Like other commenters here, I felt very deceived by the way this show was advertised. This show is far more about preaching, “Falun Dafa is Good!” than about dance. The dancing was mediocre and amateurish. How many ways could this dance group rearrange itself into 5 lines, then twirl in a clockwise direction? Very monotonous.

I felt beaten about the head, neck and ears with their “message.” I don’t think Mao himself ever arranged such a heavy-handed act, and I really dislike Mao. He was an awful man.

The day after the show, in Sacramento, I logged on to the Shen Yun website and asked for a refund. I am certain I’ll never get a response. I deserve one.

Dozens of people walked out during our performance. The performances were ripped in a popular review site in San Francisco. And the Vancouver Sun article is clearly being sock-puppeted.

This show is a shameless rip-off of your money. The truth needs to be told. I have seen many, many better Chinese dance productions; they’re not all this bad.

Your local university will probably be hosting some Chinese New Year festivities. Go to those instead, and go to those to help wipe out the memory of Shen Yun.

RJ

January 20th, 2010
5:27 pm

Jamie, the silence is deafening. Not surprised the spokeswoman at the Cobb Energy Centre never returned your call. They never replied to my email either. Guess they’ll write us off as a tempest-in-a-teapot and go on their merry way. Such a shame that such a sham gets a free pass…

Jamie Gumbrecht

January 20th, 2010
5:40 pm

RJ and others — Here’s a statement that I received today via e-mail:

“On behalf of the presenting organizations, we acknowledge the concerns expressed by some attendees at the Shen Yun performances regarding the sensitive content in certain sections of the show. As in years past, our brochures, window posters, website and press releases disclosed the show’s presenting organizations, New Times Cultural and Education Center, Inc. (NTCEC) and the Southeast US Falun Dafa Association—they have presented the show since it began appearing in Atlanta, four years ago.

In the future we will consider adding information to our materials that references the show’s content. We hope this has addressed your concerns.”

I should add, too, that this actually dropped into my inbox just after 2 p.m., but I’ve been leading training sessions today and this is the first chance I’ve had to dig into e-mail. I’m going to put up another post about this soon, too. Lots to discuss.

RJ

January 20th, 2010
10:09 pm

Well, I just revisited their website, and there is no information whatsoever regarding the presenting organizations included there: http://www.cobbenergycentre.com/shared/event_detail.aspx?EventID=3673952&WebLink=48B.13B2CA98

Further, while I am now aware that “Falun Dafa” is another name for “Falun Gong”, it would not have been clear previously that they were synonymous.

I’ll look forward to further disecting their statement in future posts. Thanks for sharing contacting them initially, and for sharing their response.

RJ

January 21st, 2010
9:23 am

As a follow up on the Cobb Energy Centre response, if they contend the issue is “the sensitive content in certain sections of the show”, they are missing (or avoiding) the point. Virtually the entire program is imbued with the ideology of Falun Gong and approaches the status of an indoctrination session. (I won’t bother to reiterate the mediocrity of the performance itself.)

I, for one, will be on the lookout next year to see if they have included any additional information in their promotions. I have the sinking feeling it will be some lame “may not be suitable for younger children due to the graphic nature of certain scenes” disclaimer in very tiny print. I sincerely doubt they will just candidly state “this show promotes the ideology of Falun Gong”. Pity. Candor is so refreshing.

[...] loved the performance, but commenters on Inside Access were upset by the Falun Gong politics of the show, “subtle as a taser shot to the [...]

Dan

January 22nd, 2010
1:57 am

I saw the show and thought it was great…. just about any show is going to have a philosophy or moral behind it right? I fail to see what is wrong with this show’s content, it was all about persevering through oppression, seeking the truth, being compassionate…. really outrageous stuff:) Actually, I found it quite moving.

Dan

January 22nd, 2010
2:20 am

another thing… do audiences in Atlanta give standing ovations to every show as a matter of courtesy? Because last Friday Shen Yun got a proper standing ovations in Atlanta. Where I come from show’s almost never get a standing ovation. So prehaps it didn’t go over as badly as many people in this message board indicate.

RJ

January 22nd, 2010
9:19 am

When those put off by the show have already left the theatre and all that remain are Falun Gong adherents, it is not a surprise that there was a standing ovation.

Dan

January 22nd, 2010
6:46 pm

How many seats are in the Cobb, 2,000 plus? It was mostly full at the end of the show. They were all Falun Gong adherents?

ChasL

January 25th, 2010
3:06 am

Gullible is how I would describe your situation here. This Falun Gong show has time and again received the “agiprop theater” news report. Not only London, Vancouver, check NYTimes, Chicago, pretty much everywhere they’ve played.

WRL

February 7th, 2010
10:09 am

Wow. Walked away from Saturday’s Hanover Theater performance of Shen Yun feeling a bit queasy with no doubt that this was the intent of the performance. The Shen Yun troupe delivered sharply divisive political rhetoric under the guise of cultural and historical entertainment.
With an unashamed and in your face Anti Communist-China message and direct promotion of Falun Dafa, a controversial cultural and religious movement, the performance left me thinking “What just Happened?” Like many must have, I went home and Googled-up after the show to find that this was more than meets the eye.
The first half of the performance was more subtle with slight references to the highly political message. Shen Yun camera crew waited in the lobby during intermission to collect feedback from viewers who were using words like “stunning” and “awesome” to describe the colorful, athletic and graceful performance of the Shen Yun dancers.
The second half of the One-Two punch came after the intermission when dancers acted out scenes of brutal communist violence against those practicing “Dafa”.
I understand Art having shock value is effective communication, but wonder if Shen Yun’s message might be tempered by its duplicitous advertising approach, using media hype and deception to lure its audience into delivering its message.
One of the main tenants of Falun Dafa is said to be truthfulness, yet I couldn’t help feeling that the troupe was hypocritical and deceitful in their approach which was straight out propaganda.
I forked over $150 for two tickets and unknowingly made a donation to a public movement. It’s not that I’m not a charitable guy; I just like to know where my donations are going beforehand. Shame on me for not pre-Googling. I was sort of curious that if the Playbill touted the political angle and message, they might be more successful and reach more people.

Pam

March 30th, 2010
2:52 am

I saw this show this weekend on Saturday in Vancouver (March 2010). I really felt I had been scammed. I have had a huge interest in China, it’s history and culture for years , so this was meant to be a real treat for me. My partner and I paid $79 canadian for tickets and I was really looking forward to this, we also traveled to Vancouver, paid for a hotel room, so not a cheap weekend and meant to be really special.
To make a long story short, many of the songs, stories and dances were simply propaganda for the religion of Falun Dafa, there were only a very few pieces that were free of this message, and even those, whilst pretty enough, were not awe inspiring enough to compensate for what was clearly a scam, a money raising venture for this group. They were blatant propaganda, examples being a ‘dance’ (one of several) showing someone being killed by communist police whilst practising Falun Dafa, and being taken to heavan, atheists in one song were denounced as perverse, and the way to salvation was through this belief system. Much of the second half of this show was taken up with pretty much all propaganda for this religion, and it was about as subtle as a sledge hammer. At the end of the performance when the show cast were assembled on stage, before the lights had even come up, large numbers of the audience stood up and left the theatre, including ourselves. Those remaining started to give an ovation, my assumption was that they were adherants to this religion because there was no other reason that made sense, so many people left in disgust or perplexity.
What made me really frustrated was that I googled it (sadly too late to save myself any money) when I returned home, and found that all the reviews you can find generally come from something called the Echo Chronicle or something similar, which is sponsored by them, so only good reviews can be seen. It comes across as somewhat spooky, like a cult. Until I saw this show I had some sympathy for any group that is oppressed for what it believes, but they claim the high road and then rip people off with this show. My reason for writing is to prevent other people from being scammed by this group. I would have had no problem with this if it had been advertised fairly for what it was, I have no problem with seeing things as art or music that shock or challenge, I would happily engage in a discussion or read information about it, but this was straight forward dishonesty, selling propaganda as a wonderful, cultural experience. For anyone thinking of going, save your money, or at least go with your eyes wide open to the real agenda of this show , at least then you won’t be disapointed.

Tim

August 5th, 2010
11:15 am

@Pam
I’m surprised you say you’ve had an interest in Chinese culture and history for years. Chinese culture is inherently very spiritual. You cannot disassociate Chinese culture with Taoist or Buddhist principles. The ancients in China have always advocated virtue and following the Dao or the Fa (Dao = Way and Fa = Law). It’s about composing with the natural forces and being in harmony with the Law of the Universe. Chinese legends are full of immortal deities and supernatural phenomena. If as an atheist you are offended by such principles and see then as being “preachy”, then I think maybe Chinese culture is not for you.. I saw the show simply as a show reviving those ancient traditional elements from a Chinese culture that has been suppressed since the cultural revolution. The show portrayed different groups or people who have claimed to follow the Dao or Fa and cultivated their virtue throughout history in China: this included Buddhists, Tibetans, Daoists and Falun Gong practitioners. I thought the show was a refreshing spiritual experience, and as a fan of chinese culture, I had they did an excellent job of portraying it. I am going to have to disagree with the comments posted above.

Cheers