Saturday, December 22, 2007
The other morning I picked up on my front steps a large four page glossy flier for something called the Holiday Wonders Show presented by New Tang Dynasty Television and featuring the Divine Performing Arts Group. Intrigued by the colorful brochure and a professional looking website, my wife ordered tickets for the whole family.
Even before we went to China last summer, our family has enjoyed seeing touring groups of Chinese dancers and acrobats. This looked very similar to ones we had seen before and for the most part it was. The dance troupe featured a couple of dozen young talented Chinese American performers that presented a wide variety of ethnic dances, some in styles that we had never seen before. The dance where all the women have a stack of three ordinary Chinese soup bowls stack on their head for the entire number is particularly impressive.
The audience (which barely half-filled the Lyric Opera House) was at least 60% Chinese and each act was introduced by a bilingual pair of MCs. The only Christmasy or holiday-ish feature of the show was the stage patter of this couple. At one point the guy came out in a Santa suit and towards the end of the show they mentioned that the holiday season stretches until Chinese New Year in February.
Ticket prices were fairly high, well into Rockettes Holiday Spectacular or Broadway touring company prices, so I was expecting some spectacle. The costumes were stunning. Each traditional number featured bright colorful highly detailed traditional dress. These compared favorably with a very extravagant dinner show we had seen in Xian, China at a Tang Dynasty theme park. Rather than sets, they used stunning impressionistic projection screens of Chinese scenery and landmarks. The projections had some animation within them and reminded me of the similar concept used in the Broadway production of The Woman In White.
While the overall production met my expectations for a touring show, what I didn’t expect was the frequent and occasionally rather blatant promotion of Falun Gong. The only reference in the promotional material to this persecuted Buddhist sect was a Falun Dala banner in the lobby. Within the show, at least three of the production numbers referenced directly or indirectly Falun Gong beliefs. In one scene, a pair of mohawked punks find a decrepit temple and the statues come to life. One of the beautifully dressed temple idols gives the boys a religious book that they read with fascination while the Buddhist statues dance around them.
The other two modern-dance influenced bits were less discrete. Black-clad jack-booted thugs with red sickles on their backs harassed and beat the conservatively dressed common people until they drove the villains off in a show of choreographed non-violent solidarity. The music and dance style for these acts was far more influenced by West Side Story than Peking Opera.
Between the dance pieces there were also several soloists that sang beautiful songs in Chinese that, as the translated lyrics shown on the backdrop said, warned oppressors that they would get their due in heaven. Since the show is produced by overseas Chinese that support Falun Gong, it was clear just which oppressors were being called out.
My overall impression of the show was very mixed. I appreciated the high production values but was a little dismayed to have spent so much money to be subjected to obvious proselytization and propoganda. This show is currently being staged in New York and is also on tour to other cities such as St. Petersburg, Minneapolis, and Boston. After Christmas, the name of the show changes to Chinese New Year Spectacular, but I suspect most of the show remains the same. According to their website, the show is also slated for Japan, Europe, Australia and Canada. If you like this sort of ethnic showcase, enjoy the production, but be aware that the group supporting the show has a hidden message and agenda.