Shen Yun returns, defiantly mixing po...

Shen Yun returns, defiantly mixing political subtext with pageantry

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#1 Jan 4, 2013
The Chinese dance troupe Shen Yun, promoting itself in flowery terms as a folkloric pageant celebrating 5,000-year-old Chinese culture, returns to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre this weekend for three performances before moving to the Fox Theatre for two more early next week.

But those expecting the advertised “classical Chinese dance and music in an exhilarating show you will never forget” might get more than they bargained for.

Based in New York, Shen Yun is associated with the spiritual group Falun Gong, which the Chinese government banned in 1999 and represses. Some reviewers have called parts of the performance and accompanying narration propaganda.

When the company performed last year in Texas, San Antonio Express-News dance reviewer Jasmina Wellinghoff described one number in which “a man who tries to stand up for his beliefs is attacked and beaten by police sporting huge red hammer-and-sickle logos on their backs.” In “The Dafa Practitioner’s Magical Encounter,” the victim “eventually gets rescued by mountain fairies while the policemen meet with ‘divine retribution,’” the critic said.(Falun Gong is also known as Falun Dafa.)

“Heavy-handed,” Wellinghoff wrote.

While advertising and advance publicity materials do not mention the performance’s recurring political subtext, which has turned off some audience members and critics at prior stops while others have accepted it at face value, the troupe has gotten more vocal about defending it.

“Calling Shen Yun ‘propaganda’ is like calling the movie ‘Schindler’s List’ anti-Nazi propaganda,” Shen Yun Promotions International spokeswoman Pia-Marie Norris told the New York Daily News last year.“‘Schindler’s List’ was a story about courage and compassion amidst horrible conditions. It is a moving and inspiring story.

“The same holds true for some of the pieces included in Shen Yun’s performance that depict great courage and faith among horrible conditions in modern-day China,” Norris said.

Regardless of your take on Chinese affairs, it’s best to know in advance that provocative political material is as much a part of the show as the 400 colorful costumes modeled by nearly 100 artists, animated backdrops and an orchestra mixing western and Chinese instruments.

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