The annual Falun Gong show has installed itself this week at the San Francisco Opera House before wandering on to stints in San Jose and Sacramento. It used to be called "The Chinese New Year's Spectacular" but has been rebranded as "Shen Yun," with an "all-new show."
Sarah Crompton in the London Telegraph reviewed it in February 2008 with a few choice words:
But what I really object to is that such a politically motivated performance is being smuggled on to stages around Europe in the name of family entertainment. And at the group's first performance in Britain on Friday at the Festival Hall, I was not alone. While many of the audience - the majority of Chinese origin - applauded, others were appalled. In such a context, any judgment of the piece's artistic merit seems beside the point, but it is a horribly Disneyfied version of the traditional Chinese culture it seeks to celebrate.
Introduced by two constantly smiling bilingual presenters, the singers wear a strange mixture of old-fashioned Western garb (purple crinoline, white evening suits) and the dancers appear dressed as Tibetan monks, ancient warriors, flowers and the like in brilliantly coloured silks. They perform against bright slides, across which flying Buddhas or spirits occasionally zoom into view, to unintentionally comic effect...The result is one of the weirdest and most unsettling evenings I have ever spent in the theatre.
To get a full dose of the strange cultiness of the group, click here to go to the source, the Shen Yun blog detailing the awesome triumphs its three different companies are having in every one of its touring cities. For the best description of the show, Sid Chen's account from January 2007 with photos by yours truly is still the best.
You're not going to be reading any of this in your local newspapers, by the way, because the show has done some serious saturation advertising in the print media this year, including the full front inner page of the Sunday Chronicle Datebook, a four-page color insert in the San Francisco Examiner, not to mention big buys in the "alt" media. Buyer beware.