While it’s important to “shop local” at stores, restaurants, bars, and cultural institutions, it would be silly not to acknowledge that most Jersey City and Hoboken residents live part of their lives over there in the big city.
One of the obvious blessings of living a pebble’s toss from Manhattan is the ability to pop over and take advantage of the abundant cultural and entertainment options available east of the Hudson.
Case in point: The theatrical phenomenon known as Shen Yun Performing Arts, which will be on stage at New York’s Lincoln Center from Jan. 11 through 15. The ambitious production tries to bridge its view of contemporary Chinese culture with ancient Chinese traditions and values – while at the same time making this history relevant to western audiences. Much of this 5,000-year history is told through the universal “languages” of music and dance.
Shen Yun has sometimes been compared by theater reviewers as a Chinese Cirque du Soleil.
Considered among the top classical Chinese performances in the world, Shen Yun was actually created in 2006 by a group of Chinese dancers and musicians in New York. Since then, Shen Yun – which means “divine” – has toured dozens of countries but has been modified often over the last five years to keep it fresh and new for audiences who saw earlier incarnations of the show.
Political underpinnings shouldn’t be lost
Despite the spectacular and colorful nature of the show, which has sometimes been compared by theater reviewers as a Chinese Cirque du Soleil, the political underpinnings of Shen Yun shouldn’t be lost on audiences.
Shen Yun has often been heavily promoted on the streets of New York, in businesses like Barnes and Noble, and elsewhere by members of Falun Gong, sometimes known as Falun Dafa. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice founded in the early 1990s that has its roots in Taoism and Buddhism. The Chinese government has labeled Falun Gong a “cult” and in the late-1990s banned its residents from following this spiritual practice. Since it was banned, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have allegedly been jailed and tortured by the Chinese government. Since then, Falun Gong members have become a cause célèbre for several international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.
According to several published reports, the founders of Shen Yun were themselves followers of Falun Gong, and the spiritual principles of the practice permeate several aspects of the show’s storyline. (One version of the show, for example, reportedly featured a righteous woman and her daughter being beaten by mean-spirited thugs who were supposed to represent China’s Communist regime.)
None of this necessarily takes away from the artistry and acrobatics of Shen Yun, or the beauty of the performance. But several reviewers have argued that show’s apparent connection to Falun Gong has skewed the accuracy of Chinese history presented in the performance. Some reviewers, and even a few audience members, have expressed discomfort with the show’s link to Falun Gong, its history, and its founder.
So, audiences should be forewarned that Shen Yun may offer a biased view of Chinese history and contemporary culture. Still, the show is chock full of beautiful dance and vocal performances. Learn history from historians; get entertainment from Shen Yun.
Shen Yun will be performed in the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, Wednesday, Jan. 11 through Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. Ticket prices begin at $80. For more information, visit http://www.davidhkochtheater.com or call (212) 496-0600.
Get tickets early. The January 2011 run of Shen Yun at Lincoln Center sold out quickly.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.