We went to see Shen Yun this evening. Some of the dances were beautiful. The Er Hu took my breath away. The wordless renditions of Chinese mythology were made a little cheesy by the poorly animated background, but overall they had a quaint charm to them. The sections on the persecution of Falungong, however, weren't nearly so quaint.
I don't agree with what's happening to Falungong practitioners. I don't agree with the persecution of anyone for any religious or spiritual beliefs. I'm just not interested in hearing about it, the same way I wouldn't be interested in attending a play about the oppression of Christianity, or Judaism, or the Baha'i. Art imitates life, but in the case of interpretive dance, it lends it a whole new frivolity.
Supposedly the moves they were using were all traditional Chinese dance moves. I know that's why I attended in the first place. Oddly, many of those movements are akin to ballet. Ballet, in recent years, seems to have become less about the dance and more about 'expression', where one can flail their arms wildly and combine it with pirouettes and grand jete to give the impression of deep inner feeling. We saw a version of The Little Mermaid where members of the cast became the living ocean. Unfortunately, there weren't enough of them to adequately cover the stage, so they ended up lying in a circle around the invisible boat (perhaps ballet has eschewed budgets as well?), having conniptions. Despite my love of that age-old fairytale, I found it difficult not to laugh.
The same went for the persecution of the Falungong. While you have pretty reasonable Chinese people in plain clothes (polo shirts and beige pants, it seems, are the marks of Falungong practitioners), they will be practicing what looks like a form of tai chi. Suddenly, in run the Bad Guys, wearing black gangster clothing with a giant red sickle and hammer symbol on the back of their jackets. The Falungong are being persecuted by Communism, I know, I get it. But when a man in a yellow polo shirt then starts showing his inner conflict by prancing around the stage and avoiding these thugs in clearly choreographed dodges - since the CCP are prancing too - it's no longer about the terrible treatment of otherwise normal people at the hands of a savage government. The story is lost. It becomes about a bunch of guys on a stage in Australia, most of who are from and grew up in New York City, attempting to tell the story of a protester's non-violent struggle against men who are very willing to kill him, and failing.
I wanted to care. It's not something that should be happening anywhere in the world, to any group of people with any kinds of beliefs. But asking me to believe that thugs and practitioners alike can leap gleefully about in a very beautiful, fluid, and altogether not a bit concerned manner is asking a bit much. I won't even go into the sketch where a child saw her mother beaten to death, but the overall message was that it was okay, because by dying her mother ascended to become one of the Heavenly Maidens. That, in itself, was not at all appropriate for a show that, from the advertising, I would gladly have taken small children to see. I could hear small children in the audience. Even though the violence was fake, I hope their parents covered their eyes. It was disturbing enough for me to watch, so I don't want to think what a child would remember. It's a way of spreading their message, sure, but not in a concert hall, not via ballet, and not for a minimum of $50 a ticket.
There's a time and a place for everything. You don't make your player sit through dialogue in the middle of a tense action scene, and you don't include a violent political message in the midst of a cultural dance extravaganza. Given it's that simple, you'd think more people would get the point by now.