By Their Handbags Ye Shall Know Them

My expensive mistake: the Shen Yun performance in Eugene, OR.

My regrets about my expensive liaison with the recent Shen Yun performance didn’t wait for the “morning after.” They gathered steam before the main event had even started, when the glossy Shen Yun “Premium Collections Catalog” of “Beauty. Divinely Inspired” was put into my hand by a tidy young person at the merchandise table. I flipped through it while standing (and standing) waiting for the auditorium doors to open so I could sit in an enormous room stuffed with people mostly not wearing masks and mostly wearing too much fragrance, all because I wanted to “treat myself” to a dollop of entertainment magic, something I sorely needed. As readers of this blog may have gleaned, I am a huge fan of the Chinese fantasy series, The Untamed, and have particularly admired the dance-like choreography of the fight scenes.

I’m a sucker for dance, anyway, and the promotional videos for Shen Hun (relentlessly featured on social media sites) promised considerable technical dance expertise, color, and movement, that might–perhaps–leave me marginally more culturally informed about traditional Chinese dance forms than previously.

And as I said, I have yearned for “a treat.” It’s been a hard three months and I was ready for immersion in splendor. Alas, splendor was not to be found.

For example, I did not find splendor, let alone cultural information or “divinely inspired” beauty in the catalog. Luxurious western-style handbags dubbed “The Mulan Leather Collection” (ranging from $580 for a tote to $260 for a clutch purse) did not, for me, conjure the spirit of “the heroic Hua Mulan.” I don’t even care if they come in “five essential colors” of “Mint, Navy, Tan, Pink, and Burgundy.” I was not seduced by the “Heavenly Pheonix Fine Jewelry Collection” though the price tag was splendid enough: the necklace was $1,180.

Nor was I tempted to purchase the masculine Han Xin Scarf, a “wool blend made in Italy,” as an offering for my (sometimes male, sometimes not) favorite Trickster deity. The “military genius” of the legendary Han Dynasty general, for whom the scarf was named, would not rub off on anyone foolish enough to be gulled by the copywriter. (Long ago, in another dynasty far, far away, I used to write copy for The Sharper Image catalog. I know whereof I speak!)

This catalog, with its backcover invitation to “join us for a cultural Renaissance that runs 5 millenia deep,” left me cold. I was not tempted to RSVP. And why was this, aside from lack of funds?

Well, earlier in the morning of the day of the performance, I had done what I usually do (but had neglected to do in this case): visited the Shen Hun and then the Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) websites. And then the usual Wikipedia and other articles. I began my search wanting to know more about the dancers’ training and ended it knowing what I wish I’d known before. Ooopsie.

To my immense consternation and regret, I found I had given my hard earned money to the entertainment wing of a racist, homophobic religous cult that also runs a right-wing media network that supports twump, Q-Anon, and anti-vax positions. Yes, Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) has been kicked out of China and apparently members have been persecuted… but knowing that this same religious cult advocates the persecution of others in this country… well, I felt no sympathy. Do as you would be done by.

However, I went to the matinee performance anyway and there I was accepting the pernicious catalog from the hands of people who would absolutely reel in disgust had they known they’d had momentary contact with a Westernly decadent, non-binary sexologist/witch.

Left: a page from the program. Rigth: the catalog.

And then the performance, which was…underwhelming.

Here’s where I feel sorry for all the little girls, dressed as if for a Nutcracker performance, and for all the grandparents and parents who also used their hard-earned cash to provide “a treat” for their families. Here’s where I also feel sorry for the obviously talented, immensely hardworking, dedicated dancers who give their all to deliver such mediocre material. For all its color, pagentry, and clever (patent-granted) digital background tech, the entire first act left me cold. The odd religious opening with digital imagery featuring a towering white guy on a winged horse, with millions of celestial minions trailing after him at his command to “save Earth”–presumably by incarnating as Falun Dafu members who will find each other via the discreet Shen Yun gold-tone metal insignia on a Mulan tote or classifieds in the right-wing Epoch Times–had nothing inspiring about it.

As for those little girls in Nutcracker finery who sat through the “Unprecedented Crime” number, wherein Falun Dafu meditators are kidnapped from a public park by Communist Party members (dressed in black, ‘natch) to have their organs harvested… well, how was this explained post-performance, at the dinner table? “I’m sorry, darling, but we took you to a cult indoctrination performance by mistake. I’ll make it all up to you by reading you the next chapter of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at bedtime, ‘kay?” (For those who don’t know, Ken Kesey is a cultural hero in these here parts.)

So I sat there, in my mask, amidst the fragrance fumes wafted by theater-goers who hadn’t gotten the Hult Center memo advising attendance fragrance-free, and grew ever more annoyed. I felt ripped off, durn it, and I’d done it to myself. I contemplated leaving at intermission.

By the time we got to the tenor (who according to the program was scheduled for the second act), who sang a dreary tune called “Fail Ye Not,” I’d just about had enough. And when he got to the lyrics “atheism and evolutionary theory harm mankind” (English translations projected on the screen at the back of the stage), it was the final straw.

This Westernly decadent, non-binary sexologist/witch who accepts the science of evolution was just about to bolt from her seat and stumble up the stairs in protest when the lights came on and intermission was called!

I was swifter then than all those women who needed a restroom stop so urgently, and had bolted up one flight of stairs from the lobby to the parking lot quicker than you could say “waving bright red flags, two communist enthusiasts scour the streets for violators of the regime’s many restrictions.” That’s a quote taken from the description of the final number on the program, “Divine Renewal of the Human World.”

The entire thing, from beginning to the end, from the catalog to the program, from the glossy ads to the performance itself, was a pitiable indoctrination attempt. And I feel so sorry for all the young dancers swept up in this thing. Would that this country offered better opportunities for such talent.

Epilogue: in the parking lot, brain-fogged by toxic fragrance chemicals, I somehow could not find the exit. Fortunately, a merciful celestial being disguised as a parking lot attendant showed me the way out. I could not leave fast enough.