On Saturday, I attended a packed-house matinee of dance group Shen Yun at the Orpheum. The program included "well wishes" from Gov. Mark Dayton, both city mayors Rybak and Coleman, state senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and U.S. representatives Keith Ellison and Michele Bachmann, with photos.The New York-based group, whose annually changing programs are drawn from "5,000 years of Chinese culture," charged $54 to $154 for tickets, and advertised extensively in the Star Tribune and elsewhere.
The show -- a rental, not a presentation of Hennepin Theatre Trust -- didn't deliver on those Cirque du Soleil prices. Based on past experiences with such formats, I figured it might be longer on spectacle than artistry. But I wasn't prepared for dancers who performed only four or five different moves, frequently flailing colorful sleeve extensions to distract from the monotony, or a show that relied so heavily on costume changes and motion-graphics backdrops for wow power, though the live orchestra was a real plus.
Beyond being artistically underwhelming, Shen Yun has caused controversy over its association with the spiritual movement Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, and what some see as cultlike propaganda. Founded in China in 1992 by charismatic leader Li Hongzhi, Falun Gong amassed millions of followers with an emphasis on meditation and physcial exercises as a path to enlightenment. In 1999, communist leaders uneasy with the movement's influence began a campaign of suppression, though the number of Chinese people who still practice it privately is unknown. Shen Yun is also banned from performing in China.
The program noted that the show was presented by the Minnesota Falun Dafa Association, and the last segment direclty portrays government brutality against followers of the movement. WHile multiple references to heaven and "the divine" imply some sor tof religious agenda, if there are ulterior motives in Shen Yun's programs, their effects are obliterated by all the whirling and twirling.
If you've been to a Shen Yun performance, did it meet your expectations? And is it propaganda, or a harmless, good-will way of promoting healthiness and tolerance?