Tag: Falun Gong

Splendor agenda

Monday, February 4th, 2008 | All Things, Arts

For weeks, I’d been running into the brightly costumed promoters out on the streets — by the office, near my home — and seeing the mobile LED billboard tooling around the city to advertise New Tang Dynasty Television’s Chinese New Year Splendor, which played a 15-show run over 11 days at Radio City Music Hall. Now in its fifth year, the show was performed by members of the New York-based Divine Performing Arts company to showcase 5,000 years of Chinese music, dance and culture.

I had seen the show in 2006 and found it fine, if not all that compelling, entertainment; nonetheless, when I was offered the opportunity to check out the show tonight, there seemed little reason to turn down a ticket. The venue was about a third empty tonight, probably due in part to the outrageously steep ticket prices, which soared to Young Frankenstein-esque levels of $280(!) apiece. For the price of admission, audiences could expect the usual assortment of traditional musicians and dancers, lavish costumes and dramatizations of Chinese legends. The various scenes were supported by a full orchestra comprised of both Eastern and Western instruments, played out against a backdrop of the Music Hall’s enormous LCD screen on which scrolled floating buddhas, glowing temples and pastoral landscapes.

Chinese New Year Splendor

Fan dancers, swirling scarves and ribbons, tumbling acrobatic dancers, singers accompanied by a Steinway… all pretty standard. But then, about half a dozen acts in, a startling collision of politics and culture — “The Risen Lotus Flower” depicted the persecution of Falun Gong in China: three women, peacefully meditating, coming under vicious attack by Communists, portrayed as black-clad thugs with red hammer and sickle emblazoned on their jacket backs. (No points for subtlety there.) They beat and kill one of the women, whose spirit rises to its just reward in heaven. What the…?

The change in tone was jarring, and I swiveled around in my seat to check out the reaction of other audience members. Most didn’t seem particularly surprised or disturbed, though I did note a few people walk out. The following act to this bizarre display: an erhu soloist.

After intermission, nestled among the Korean-style and Mongolian dance sets, another segment with anti-Chinese government undercurrents: “The Power of Awareness.” The Communists were back, this time attacking a mother and daughter holding up banners with the Falun Gong message of “Faithfulness, Compassion and Forebearance.”

I would have captured some of these images, but the organizers seemed particularly strict on banning photography of the show: a billboard on stage declared “PHOTOGRAPHY STRICTLY PROHIBITED” — a message reinforced in English and Mandarin announcements before each half, and by several men walking the aisles bearing “NO CAMERAS” signs. Check out videos and photos on the show site, though none feature the segments I just described.

So was I the only one caught completely unaware of the show’s agenda? A couple days later, an article appeared in The New York Times, drawing attention to Chinese New Year Splendor co-sponsors’ alignment with the Falun Gong movement — a relationship not at all clear in any of the show’s extensive advertising. Gothamist covered the controversy as well, sparking a rather heated debate in the comments section.

Chinese authorities have labeled Falun Gong a cult, outlawing its practice and even issuing a statement against NTDTV’s “so-called Gala.” Regardless of one’s views toward the Falun Gong practitioners, what is clear is that the Chinese do have a history of human rights abuses toward them, as noted with concern in reports by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch.

And all I was expecting to see tonight were pretty dances.

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