You can’t like ’em all

I like dance.  I like modern ballet, jazz, folk, all kinds of dance.

I’ve seen and enjoyed folk dancing, in particular, in Germany, France, Austria, Kentucky, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Having thus established my multicultural terpsichorean bona fides, I hope you’ll trust me when I say: I did not like Shen Yun, the Chinese performing company I saw in San Jose Saturday night.  At least I saw the first act, because we were out of there like a shot at intermission.  I had already texted Mike (during the performance) to ask how long I would be in prison for shouting “fire” and running, but he advised against it.

They advertise this as “Chinese Ballet”, but there is no ballet. Plenty of Chinese–this show is really aimed at Chinese people.  The program (which is $5, not given to every seatholder), is in Chinese.  The announcements before the show are in English and Chinese.  The announcements during the show are in English and Chinese.  I think they’d be better off to just skip the English and market the show exclusively to native speakers, who would enjoy it better in any case.

The dances all entail a large identically costumed cast twirling around the stage.  In most of the scenes, the key part of the costuming is sleeves that are 3 feet too long, draping on the floor when not rapidly spinning around.  It’s showy, it just isn’t ballet.  Sometimes there are acrobatics, which mostly consist of flying cartwheels.  They are also inordinately fond of rapidly taking tiny steps as a means of locomotion.

There is no scenery, but the back of the stage in a very large screen upon which is projected animation.  Sometimes there is a character onstage who jumps off a small riser in back into a pit, then magically starts flying on the screen.  Sometimes a character flies in on the screen, then jumps up from the pit and joins the cast.

The lighting is non-existent.  They just turned on the stage lights and went at it.  No spotlight, no lighting cues, no changes.

Between scenes, a couple come out to introduce the next event.  A man who looks like he belongs on top of a wedding cake, who announces in English, and a woman in Chinese dress who announces in Chinese.  I don’t think they were saying the same thing, because he would tell a joke and get a laugh, but nobody laughed at whatever the woman said.

One becomes accustomed to “no photography” signs, but it was amazing to me that the before the show the ushers were all carrying 3 foot high “no photos” signs, and then there was an announcement in English, then one in Chinese, then the identical announcement again in English and then again in Chinese.  I guess they’re really worked up about it, but who the heck cares?  Everyone is carrying a cell phone with a camera, and there isn’t a darned thing they can do about it.

During the half we saw, there were two scenes in which a soprano came onstage, accompanied by a grand piano, and sang something.  Gail sort of liked it, I thought she was terribly screechy.

In the middle of all the historic folk dancing, there was one narrative scene about a couple on vacation who interject themselves into a Falun Gong protest (they use the name Falun Dafa, but they are the same thing as far as I can research).  They are arrested, beaten up and imprisoned by the bad guys, who are wearing shirts with a hammer and sickle on the back.  The announcers made a very weak statement about how this is happening today, then let the issue drop.  I’m sure that there is a lot more politics here than I understand, but they weren’t there to educate the likes of me.  Too bad, that might have been more interesting.

The dances were reputedly from various areas of China, from Mongolia to Tibet.  Still, everyone had those long, long sleeves.  Quite a coincidence, I should think.

A few of the scenes were narrative, but featured caricatures rather than characterizations.  This wasn’t delicate, interpretive art, it was rank buffonery, which would be considered racist if anyone else did it.

The show is put on by the Shen Yun Performing Arts, a New York company with 3 touring troupes and a couple of schools, one in San Francisco.  They had tables in the lobby flogging CD’s, books, photos, those $5 programs, and their dance school.

I guess you could say we didn’t like it.  Your mileage may vary.


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