Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended a Shen Yun performance in Vancouver with my wife. I bought the tickets just before Christmas from sellers at a Bay store in Surrey; it seemed like it would be a fun date for us. I didn't look for reviews; it was a splurge-gift.
We got there late. I thought I knew how to get to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, but I didn't. We listened to the entire "Bernice Meadows" episode of Wiretap as I looked for a parking spot. We eventually found one a block away, ran to the theatre, and came in just before the second act.
Immediately, it felt weird. As we waited to get ushered to our seats, a tenor sang a song introduced as "Awaiting the Way." Its words flashed on the projection screen in both Chinese and English. I'll include the lyrics, directly lifted from the program here:
The performance's agenda became clearer and clearer as the show continued. In one dance titled "Nothing Can Block The Divine Path," Communist thugs kill a female Falun Dafa follower, and "heavenly beings" come to her aid. One song, titled "The Divine is Saving" opens with the line "The followers of Dafa are saving lives." One later performance titled "Astounding Conviction" showed a Falun Dafa follower who raises a banner in Tiananmen Square that reads "Falun Dafa is Good." He gets imprisoned, but divine beings give him what appears to be a mimed forcefield. the Communist thugs return, but they can't hurt him and they retreat. The character then unrolls his banner and the words "Falun Dafa is Good" explode on the screen in triumphant, golden letters--Chinese and English.
Then a singer came on stage and sang this song:
I could talk more and more about this event, but there's no need. By the time this song was sung, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. The sincerity of the propaganda was so pure that, well, it was kind-of beautiful, in a way. It was also ridiculously cheesy.
When I got home, I looked up "Shen Yun" on the Internet and found it directly associated with Falun Dafa. The Epoch Times, Falun Dafa's advocate paper, has a whole section dedicated to it and publishes glowing reviews of the program all over the world. Falun Gong's television station, NTDTV, published similar articles. The interconnectivity of the Falun Gong propaganda machine is so intricate, so undeniably complete that it felt sort-of like Watchtower Society or Latter-Day Saints propaganda.
But I'd never seen such evangelism from a group like Falun Dafa, a movement newer than Scientology, a group without its roots in Western tradition and thought. The Shen Yun performance felt forced because its belief system shouldn't fit Western-Styled evangelism. Here were dancers and performers advertising stories about the Buddha. It was weird.
And cheap. Instead of sets, they used an enormous projection screen, which often acted as a performer itself. At multiple points, projected characters would go off screen, only to appear as a dancer from off stage. In one sequence called "Splitting the Mountain," a character gets condemned to the inside of a mountain by a god. Another character then gets given a sword, splits the mountain, and frees the condemned person. None of this occurs with the use of a set. Instead, computer animated images of exploding mountains occurred, and the dancers acted "shocked." Events like this happened throughout the show. They made the show drip with cheese.
It lent the show a certain degree of familiarity. I've attended plenty of Christian propaganda/evangelism events. I've attended many church-run Easter and Christmas plays, which often had an altar call at the end and explained the nutshell story of Jesus; I've seen plenty of DRIME performances that attempt to explain the Gospel through interpretive dance; I've seen performances by bands and choirs that try to articulate the gospel clearly to the largely Christian audience; I attended a Billy Graham crusade; I've been handed pamphlets to help invite people to lectures; the camp I was a counselor at certainly evangelized in a spectacular way. Christianity has used spectacle to spread the Gospel for centuries. Spectacular events, shows, and buildings can reach a large audience at the one time. It's a matter of efficiency and economics.
But evangelistic work, or work dircetly associated with a faith agenda, usually ends up cheap. Arts should be able to stand up in the secular arena, and arts that can stand up in the secular arena don't bother to identify themselves with their religion. In the case of Shen Yun Performance Arts, it severly cheapens the experience of the art. The dancers' precision could not make up for the fact that they had an agenda. And even with my experience with Christian evangelistic techniques, I couldn't help but be disappointed with the cheap cheesiness of the show. It was amusing, but was nonetheless disappointing.
(Blogspot.com, April 13, 2010)
Original text from: http://returntovomit.blogspot.com/2010/04/shen-yun.html