To Hammersmith in London yesterday evening where, disguising myself as a human being, I attended the London premiere of Shen Yun. The venue – which rock fans of a certain age will remember as the old Hammersmith Odeon – was sold out. Hence anyone with tickets going there should arrive in good time, as the queue to get in snaked all the way round the building and back down Queen Caroline Street.
Anywho: Shen Yun is a world-renowned performing arts company that showcases traditional Chinese culture through music, dance, and storytelling. The company (which is actually based in New York) was founded in 2006 by a group of Chinese artists who wanted to revive the ancient traditions of their homeland and share them with the world.
Now I could talk about Shen Yun’s stunning visuals, intricate choreography, and powerful storytelling; and that the company’s dancers, musicians, and singers are all highly trained professionals who bring their passion and dedication to every performance. I could even talk about the colourful and elaborate costumes worn by the dancers, as well as how the The company’s orchestra combines traditional Chinese instruments with Western classical instruments to create a unique and captivating sound.
However, this being an esoteric blog, I am going to talk about the Magick of the thing. Despite the fact that this show transports the audience to another time and place, and gives them a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of China, this show will never play in Beijing – or anywhere in (mainland) China itself, for that matter. What’s more, if Chinese intelligence thought to photograph everyone going into the venue last night (or just stolen the credit card details from the booking agency), that means that there are now 5,000 people added to their list of people not welcome in their country.
The reason being is that Shen Yun is quite blatantly aligned with the Falun Dafa movement which has been banned in China, and whose supporters have not only been arrested but have been executed and even (it is alleged) have had their organs harvested.
This can come as an unexpected shock to someone coming to watch the show. First is a dance sequence representing heavenly beings coming to Earth; then there is traditional “Water Sleeves” dancing; then there is a choreographed interpretation of one of the episodes of “Journey to the West” (better know to people my age as the classic BBC2 series Monkey); etc. Then, all of a sudden there is a dance interpretation of Falun Dafa practitioners being harassed, beaten, executed and reaped in modern China. Oh look! And here’s a song about God and the spiritual path of Falun Dafa overcoming the ways of Godlessness and materiality! Then more historical dancing and re-telling of folk tales and so forth.
Incidentally, you may be asking, what’s the big deal about Falun Dafa? I shall digress by stating I myself once attended a couple of Falun Dafa sessions. I didn’t continue it, as they were held on the other side of town and I found it difficult to attend on a regular basis. However, based on my limited experience I would say that Falun Dafa’s nearest analogues are Qigong and Yoga. I found each session to be typically ¾ Qigong-like exercises, and ¼ yoga meditation. Now if you’re thinking at this point, “But there’s nothing wrong with either Yoga or Qigong,” you would of course be absolutely right: but, bizarrely, the Chinese Government took against it, claiming it to be a subversive movement, and banned it. Woe betide you if you sit down in a park in China and try to adopt a sneaky lotus position!
Anyway, back to last night’s show: the point about the political content of the evening was not to dwell on the suffering, but to offer an optimistic vision of the eventual triumph of Good over Evil: that the influence of Heaven will be re-established in this world, Falun Dafa will be instrumental in healing this planet in general, and the people in it in particular, and that the souls of all those who have suffered so far will be apotheosised and take their rightful place in the celestial realms. As I sat staring at this spectacle, I thought: “This is quite blatant Ritual Magick.”
Let’s face it: there is music, dance, drama, impressive visuals – all with the express aim of manifesting Shen Yun’s spiritual vision. This is most evident in the finale of the evening, which imagines Falun Dafa ultimately succeeding: a traditional magical technique of imagining the end-result as already happening, reinforced by the power of strong aesthetics and emotions.
In conclusion, if you are going to see this, I wish you well and I hope you enjoy it. If you haven’t got tickets, although I was told the run is now sold-out, I did observe people trying to get tickets on the night, so there may be a chance for you.
Shen Yun is playing in London until April 22nd. For details of this and other shows in cities worldwide, please visit the official website.