Shen Yen not as advertised

Propaganda served lukewarm on stage.

The Hamilton Spectator, Canada/January 2, 2015

By Ingrid Mayrhofer

Your Stories is a Spectator forum for community submissions on subjects of interest. They appear as submitted.

For a change from our traditional x-mas attendance of the Nutcracker, I thought I'd treat my partner to the show of Shen Yun this year.

The advertising and website promised "5,000 years of civilization. Live on stage!" at Hamilton Place.

Buying tickets seemed simple enough: click on "ticketmaster." However, my first red flag went up when the e-tickets arrived and identified Falun Dafa as the presenter of the show. Not fond of religious cults, I wanted to cancel.

Second surprise was that Ticketmaster could not find my reservations, and a closer look at the tickets identified the sender as "" instead.  That web address linked back to the Shen Yun main page.

A call to the presenter got me voice mail, and the credit card company said they could not stop my payment. An online search for more information about Shen Yun turned up many negative comments from other viewers and a claim by Falun Dafa that they stood for "Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance."

While the group's lack of truthfulness was demonstrated by their marketing approach, and their lack of compassion didn't allow me to return the tickets, we took them up on forbearance and went to see the show.

 The show tried our patience right at the beginning with garish electronic imaging and loud western instruments. The background projection outdid the dancers on the stage with visual fx, and the military-style sound smothered the hall.

Approximately 20 minutes into the spectacle, the announcers began to talk about Falun Gong and how the Chinese government persecuted the sect, offering the next dance as an illustration thereof.

At this point, we agreed that we did not have to endure without complaining.

 I am convinced that bad art is worse than no art at all. The Shen Yun spectacle was laden with derivative imagery from Chairman Mao as the rising sun among eager followers set in pastel landscapes.

 Posters and paintings from "the cultural revolution" feature just as many mythical creatures and scenes from ancient traditions in identical compositions to those projected by Shen Yun.

My expectation of the aesthetic of protest art is that it should challenge the dominant culture in order to motivate those who can bring about change. Shen Yun does neither, nor does it celebrate 5,000 years of Chinese civilization. Instead, it uses cartoonish visuals and blaring sound best left to Disneyland.

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