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Surprised by the politics in shows like Shen Yun?

ShenYun12(2) (Small)

At Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, Chinese performnace troupe Shen Yun featured drummers, dancers and propaganda that surprised some audiences. Some were OK with the message, but some were offended.

In the days since Shen Yun Performing Arts, the Chinese drum and dance troupe, left Atlanta to move onto the next stop on its perpetual tour, conversation continued to rumble about the shows they’d performed at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Some 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 noggin,” the AJC review said. It’s not that commenters necessarily disagree or deny that persecution has taken place in China. They were surprised to see it — especially a few violent scenes,  one involving a taser and another where a mother and child are beaten — in a show promoted as a music-and-acrobatic spectacular

Wrote Marilee Coughlin:

While the dancers are fabulous, and the costumes are gorgeous, I felt like I was at a revival or brain-washing session. … 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.

Local Falun Gong groups sponsored the show, but people I’ve heard from said it wasn’t adequate warning that politics might enter into a performance touted as family friendly. The show has taken a drubbing in international press, but AJCer Howard Pousner talked with several audience members who weren’t offended by the message, but they weren’t expecting it either. (You can read his entire story, “Many Atlantans OK with Chinese dance trouple’s politics.”) Several said they were fine with it: they wanted to know the other side of the story.

Here’s what another commenter, KJ, had to say:

My recommendation for the show’s creators.. [sic] 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.

I asked for a response from the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre’s PR agency, and received this statement from J. Barkley Russell on behalf of the local presenting organizations, not Cobb Energy Centre itself:

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 didn’t see this show, but in the commercials, billboards, and even the press materials, I didn’t see anything explicit about the show’s point of view, except for a passing reference about Chinese traditions before Communism.

On my own, I would have stayed to watch. Reporterly curiosity means I sit through a lot of things the surprise me, whether they delight or horrify. But it’s entirely different to see a show for work than to see a show with friends or family.

I wonder how common an experience this is. The closest situation I can recall is an early screening of “Million Dollar Baby.” The the mood in the theater changed as the movie became less about boxing and more about — surprise! — assisted suicide.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience on this. Have you been surprised or offended by an unexpected political message in art, whether on stage, in the movies or elsewhere? What responsibility do organizations and venues have to tell audiences beforehand? Should audiences be expected to do their own digging?

For instant updates, follow @insideaccess on Twitter.

79 comments Add your comment

RJ

January 25th, 2010
8:14 am

@Chas

Yep, I feel pretty stupid for being blind-sided by this group. Have no problem with those who want to use “art” to make a statement– political, religious, or otherwise– but it is downright deceptive not to apprise potential ticket buyers in advance what to expect. (Of course, they wouldn’t sell as many tickets, so they continue to hide the purpose of the show.) I found the negative reviews after the fact.

Interesting note on the raves. After the fact, I did a quick search on the fab exclamations included in their brochure. Was not able to find a single reference to Shen Yun in any of the sites which supposedly praised the program. Was giving them the benefit of the doubt until I saw your message. Now we can add false advertising to their list of offences. Somehow doesn’t engender much good will for this crew.

Chas

January 25th, 2010
3:14 am

And a FYI, all the places that raves about the show like Epoch Times, are Falun Gong propaganda, um, media outets.

Chas

January 25th, 2010
3:09 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.

SW

January 25th, 2010
2:13 am

Mislead? Yes. Actually, it was more like being ambushed. This show was advertised as entertainment. A young child and its mother being beaten with clubs by 4 grown men or later having the same 4 men taser an unarmed man, just didn’t seem entertaining to me. Although the swirling dancers in their beautifully colored costumes were a feast for the eyes, this show should have been labeled PG-13.

NJ

January 24th, 2010
3:12 pm

RJ,

“Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance” are universal principles. They are transcendant principles. They have been taught in all religions and secular societies for the past 3-5,000 years around the world.

If mankind understands all divine teachings in an accurate way, it is not difficult to figure out that religions should unite us, instead of dividing us. It is mankind’s shallow understanding of divine teachings, which causes fights among religious ideology.

Note that we, as US citizens, have freedom to go to see Shen Yun, while Chinese citizens, who purchased Shen Yun tickets in HK, have been blocked from seeing the performances. Chinese citizens have been harassed and threatened by Chinese policemen, who have forced them to hand over the Shen Yun tickets which they had purchased. Chinese citizens have had their homes ransacked by Chinese policemen searching for Shen Yun tickets. What a great real life lesson for our children to learn about – freedom vs. oppression?

In addition, Shen Yun is advertised and billed as Classical Chinese Music and Dance. It is presented throughout the whoe program as Classical Chinese Music and Dance with focus on the strength of human spirituality.

The two Falun Gong dances (out of 15 other Classical Chinese dances) beautifully presents that Chinese people are not willing to give up their faith when confronting evil and horror.

As we all know, good will defeat evil in the end!!

Eric

January 24th, 2010
10:59 am

The show was and as in all the other years, similar and fabulous.The costumes were perfect in even the political and violent moments,and with the perfect backdrops,showed exactly in true life,what life is about.I actucally thought I was in China ,witnessing it.It is absolutely correct to show the truth,the good and the bad,and what life is about.The show ,I thought was real educational,and great for kids,to learn about Chinese,and the idea of other cultures.

RJ

January 23rd, 2010
10:59 pm

@NJ,

Shen Yun could demonstrate a little “truthfulness” by letting folks know before they buy tickets that their performance is imbued with Falun Gong ideology. Alas, they seem unwilling to be candid about the intent of the program. Truthfulness, good. Deception, bad.

NJ

January 23rd, 2010
7:38 pm

My fellow Americans, let us remind each other about the greatness of America
1. In God We Trust.
2. Freedom and democracy.

The beauty of Shen Yun is its spirituality – underlying its exquisite performances – incorporating exceptional singing, dancing and costumes.

Human spirituality is universal, whether governments recognize this or not. Human spirituality is not political or religious; It is universal.

“Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance” are, as well, universal principles. They are transcendant principles. Thus, I don’t believe that Shen Yun has any religious propaganda.

Shen Yun reminds us and our children not to take our freedom and democracy for granted. There are people in China facing torture and death in prison because of their faith in simple universal principles.

Shen Yun is great education for all of us. There is no deception but full of great surprises!!!
====================================================

AK-47

January 22nd, 2010
11:11 pm

My question is how Shen Yun managed to book Kennedy Center? Their performance is mediocre at best. Silly slides, garish clothes, plus the religious propaganda. I felt the urge to leave after the first 15 minutes.

MC

January 22nd, 2010
8:06 pm

Dudes… It’s a show about China… China in the past, and China now… and it turns out they do that in China now… that’s China… propaganda lol, you guys should go see a show from the mainland…