NOTE: I completely support freedom of religion, and I support the right of Fa Lun Gung practitioners to follow their religion as they see fit. This review is NOT “anti-Fa Lun Gung,” it is simply a theatrical review of what was billed as an arts performance. I am against the suppression of Fa Lun Gung as it is against the universal rights of man to not be able to follow the religion you choose.
Well, this was not the night I was expecting. I was warned, more or less, in the opening number, in which pretty dancing ladies in traditional dress, buddhist monks, and Chinese warriors danced on stage in front of a video screen. Suddenly, a flying chariot shot down from the sky and the deity within it said, “All come together and live a thousand years!” or something like that, and the people on stage all turned and bowed to the video screen.
Oh my God, we had bought tickets to a Chinese religious “revival.” And this wasn’t some run of the mill religion: it was the heavily persecuted Fa Lun Gung cult, for two and a half hours. Holy shades of Xenu, Batman!
To be clear, there was quite a bit of traditional Chinese dance, including a charming “Tibetan bowl dance,” a number in which whirled yellow handkerchiefs (which looked like dandelions) made a field of flowers (supposedly forsythias), and two different fan dances. But these were interspersed with the most heinous vocal performances I’ve seen since … well, I am thinking of Lyric Opera Northwest’s Carmen, but we weren’t really suffering from poor vocals. What we were presented was a culturally painful pastiche of anime style hooped ballgowns, a straight Western singing style, and lyrics … all about Fa Lun Gung. Let me give you an example.
“So vast loomed this world/I knew not who I was/Oh how many lifetimes? The number was a blur.
“Lost no help in sight/Only distress and pain/How weary, how heavy was this longing heart.
“Until one day I finally came upon the truth/Until The Way (Da Fa, from Fa Lun Da Fa, the great path of Fa Lun Gung) I had sought pierced the ear like thunder.” (Okay, that’s not as obvious as the one where the woman sang, “Fa Lun Gung, it’ll make you feel better,” but this happens to be the one I had the pen out for.)
I was mortified. I had inadvertently fell into a cache of very sincere religious people singing and dancing their hearts out in support of their faith, and I had paid to be there.
To be fair, the artistry was quite good if you like Chinese dance, and the erhu (Chinese violin) performance was great, but I was crawling in my skin and rather angry with the promoters for hiding the true nature of this performance. I mean, I have no one to blame but myself for not realizing that the Bach “Saint John’s Passion” is basically a really long Bible reading, but the promotional material for this performance said it was a Chinese performing arts presentation, and indicated nowhere that it was a group of American Fa Lun Gung believers on a tour of Europe to raise consciousness about their great religion and their persecution by the Chinese government.
That said, I was quite absorbed by the two pieces about how, well, let’s be clear, the Chinese authorities beat up, imprison, and sometimes kill people who practice Fa Lun Gung. The piece set in the prison (with three women prisoner who clearly are being held because of their faith) may have been extremely corny insofar as it proposed that someone could see images of dancing Chinese fairies if they believed hard enough; but the bit about being beaten to death in jail, that was pretty real and it hit a nerve that most dance I see just pretends isn’t even there. The two women who saw their friend joining the angels in heaven (albeit a Chinese/Buddhist heaven): totally outside of my belief system, and yet the raw need to believe something positive could come out such a horrible death (and probably some rather bad lives) was palpable from my balcony seat. It even gave me some sympathy for my own torturers. And, I have to admit, the way China’s ramping up throwing dissidents in jail with the Olympics on the way, I felt rather cheery about having someone say, “Yo! China! Let’s talk about how great it isn’t!” (This was exactly the point made in the other religious dance piece, in which the mother and her daughter started out waving a Fa Lun Gung banner and were then forcibly separated by soldiers – the rather subtle message being that the world should not be a bystander to this abuse. They pointed this out to us before it started in case we might have missed the extremely heavy-handed symbolism.) I imagine the Chinese government gnashing its collective teeth over this show, which, well, really worked the political angle, generally speaking in a club like way.
Fa Lun Gung also seemed not so great, based on the dance piece in which the punk and the goth had goddesses and monks shaming them for their bad clothes (but then rewarding them with a religious text in a scene that had me thinking of Joseph Smith and the golden tablets) – is conformity really such a virtue for them? I think, though, rather than them disliking them for being “punk,” it may be, in fact, that they were being rejected for being homosexual – and for me, a religion (or culture or country) that persecutes homosexuals is not one that I could ever support.
While the religious element in general had me wishing for a much earlier end to the show, I also take issue with it being too long overall, using video screens in an imagination-inhibiting way, and … well, the singers just shouldn’t have been there at all, because they were boring and they ruined the flow of the rest of the show. And how could they do a show about Chinese arts and culture that didn’t have even a nod to the Journey to the West? So while at the end we were exhorted to bring our friends and family, I will say to you instead: avoid, avoid, avoid this show, even if you really like Chinese culture (like I do) – it’s like watching a two and a half hour long religious infomercial.
Tags: Chinese dance, do more research on Chinese art before you comment, Fa lun gung, If Scientologists danced would it be like this, just because you like this show doesnt mean it's good, please don't ever do this again, please no more animated projections on stage, reviews, Royal Festival Hall, Shen Yun, Southbank, Spectacular my ass, this is the post that the freaks come read, trapped by cultists