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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 28th, 2010
11:18 pm

@Chas

Right on target. Very obviously a part of the Falun Gong machine. All the quotes had to do with the “uplifting of the human spirit” and the beauty/pageantry/etc. Never once mentioned Falun Gong.

What do you expect politicians to say when they’re being feted to a reception after the show: it stank? They want votes…

Chas

January 28th, 2010
8:31 pm

NTDTV is also a propaganda arm of Falun Gong, just like Epoch Times. Check the State Dept research paper titled “China and Falun Gong” by Dr. Thomas Lum on who runs these media outlets.

RJ

January 28th, 2010
8:09 pm

@Pebbles

The nice thing about politicians is you always know when they’re lying: their lips move.

Pebbles

January 28th, 2010
10:44 am

Shen Yun recently played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Here’s a link to a video where some Members of Congress express their views about what they saw at the show:

http://english.ntdtv.com/ntdtv_en/ns_arts/2010-01-26/668501099335.html

Ying

January 28th, 2010
1:20 am

to RJ, I’m sorry there are so many people making false arguments against your original idea. I wanted to help by telling my own personal experiences. However, it won’t work unless they want to wake up. I appreciated your time and effort but you can’t alert their ideas. Just like I can’t change my mother who left her family two days ago. Have a good day.

Moi Hung

January 27th, 2010
7:10 pm

Shen Yun is art and spiritual; not political.
Everyone in USA celebrate Martin Lurther King’s Day; would you say that everyone in America got involve in politics?

Sarah

January 27th, 2010
4:25 pm

I have seen the show. I thought it was really good. I hope everyone can see it.

cyrus

January 27th, 2010
2:25 pm

RJ, one more thing, I am sure you have a lot time in your life for a little more. When I got the brochure it had Buddhist monks and Dancers on it, and I read it carefully and it said its goal is to revive Chinese Culture and it is independent from the Chinese Regime. It also says sponsored by Falun Dafa. So I looked them up as any intelligent person would do, and found that Falun Dafa represents Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. Just check their website, Falundafa.org

I am a history and philosophy Buff, so I know China up until 1949 was mainly made up of a historical culture with major elements of Buddhism, Toaism and Confucianism. And that is what Falun Dafa is centered on. So when one is watching traditional culture from historical China, its going to have elements from Buddhism and Taoism, and that covered the term Falun Dafa. Although I am not a Chinese, I lived there a year, and speak pretty well. Fa is a Buddhist term for way and law, Dafa means the great way as a Taoist would put it, so for some one who is a little educated in traditional Chinese culture before the Communists, one would know. If you don’t like the spiritual aspects of the show, sorry bro, and if you don’t like classical dance, sorry bro, maybe you frefere just Rap and hiphop, because classical dance requires a different taste, or at least a different moond, one of calmness and positivity. But don’t knock on something because you lacked any common knowledge, and you obviously have personal issues, if not you would not be hysterical and so negative for a show, especially one that all the people that I was with enjoyed so much, and everyone gave a standing ovation.

I am done bro, I have things to do in my life, than being so negative on top of waisting my time arguing and writing reviews. Sorry for harshness towards, just don’t get how you can be so negative, as well spend so much of your time online. Best Wishes Bro.

RJ

January 27th, 2010
2:18 pm

@Cyrus

You’d be amazed what one can accomplish with good time-management skills…

cyrus

January 27th, 2010
2:07 pm

RJ, it seems you have a lot of time in your hands and life. Hm. This is the longest I have been involved with a tread, or review, blog, etc. I have never seen someone so attached and so negative, as well as adamant about having your voice heard, and people recognizing what you have to say, while repeating the same negativities over and over again.

If your not some Chinese Communist supporter and you a are simply a citizen who wants to follow the show around and write bad reviews, well you want see me around, I have better things do the with my life, than stay online and write reviews. Seriously dude, what is wrong with your thinking and life?