Politics is no stranger to the performing arts. Some scholars point to Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and his history plays as cries against the ruling class of his times. There's a whole branch of contemporary theater — usually called agitprop — devoted to spreading political messages.
But you don't usually see theatrical politics wrapped in the gaily colored package presented by New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts. Its show of classical Chinese dance and music is an explosion of color, sound and movement. More than three dozen dancers are accompanied by a wonderfully robust 20-plus piece pit orchestra that would be the envy of any Broadway touring show.
To a mighty crash on the cymbals, the opening tableaux reveals a phalanx of fresh-faced dancers decked out in bright orange, shocking pink and fluorescent green, emerging from the theatrical mist that eddies around them.
They energetically tumble and whirl through folk dances, they tell amusing Chinese tales through movement and larger-than-life pantomime. Draping sleeves billow, silk scarves flutter, skirts swirl, bodies soar.
There's more than a hint of theme-park style magic in the ever-smiling performers and the day-glo color scheme of the elaborate, often sparkly costumes.
That's what makes it so jarring when suddenly in one vignette, government thugs — with not-so-subtly stylized red hammer-and-sickle emblems on their jackets — attack two tourists taking photos of Chinese practitioners of Falun Dafa, the spiritual movement also known as Falun Gong.
Ah, there's the politics. One moment, you're watching an entertaining Mongolian dance in which beautiful women gracefully sway, balancing bowls on their heads, while their pretty purple yurts glimmer in the background. The next, you're watching a prison beating set to music.
"The injustice we just saw has been taking place in
Other dance highlights include the exuberant "Dancing for the Gods," which lets the troupe relax a bit from the more formal movements while displaying joyfully emphatic footwork, and "An Early Spring," which boasts visually spectacular handkerchief twirling.
In building to the finale, the proselytizing becomes more blatant. A tenor sings in Chinese: "Falun Dafa can clearly explain the truth. Don't just look at our suffering amidst this persecution." (The English lyrics are projected behind the singer, and printed in the program.)
An odd mix, for sure, but also strangely interesting to glimpse the discord in China today — and see the entertaining way Shen Yun Performing Arts has gussied up its side of the story.
• What: Classical Chinese dance and music
• Length: 2:25, including intermission
• When: 7:30 p.m. through Thursday, Jan. 17
• Price: $50-$200