Western Groups Cancel China Arts Festival Appearances

Dirlam is a free-lance writer based in Beijing

All of the American and Western European groups that once planned to perform at the second China Arts Festival, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, have canceled, sources confirmed on Monday.

The Joffrey Ballet of Los Angeles and New York had been at the top of the list of international performers invited to China for the festival, but was among the first to cancel after the army put a violent end to student demonstrations in Beijing on June 4.

Joffrey executive director Penelope Curry said the company's tour was canceled at the end of June because of concerns for "safety of the dancers and our patrons," who were to go with the Joffrey.

The U.S. Embassy here confirmed on Monday that no American groups will participate at the festival.

As China takes new measures to enforce its hard-line repression of freedom and martial law continues in Beijing, the last of the Western Europeans have given notice that they won't be participating. A Finnish arts ensemble, which the English-language China Daily had announced as late as July 19 as being among those planning to attend, was the most recent Western European cancellation. A spokeswoman at the Finnish Embassy's cultural section here said on Monday that no Finnish group would participate.

While not announcing who was on the original list of international performers, a spokesman for the China Foreign Performing Agency met with reporters on Friday and said that the festival will now be dominated by Chinese groups. The event is supposed to be one of the highlights of the 40-year anniversary of the People's Republic of China.

About 70 groups from around China will perform at the festival. All that are left on the roster for the second festival (the first was in 1987) from outside China are the Soviet State Bolshoi Theatre, representing the Soviet Union; a song and dance troupe from North Korea and an acrobatic troupe from Mongolia.

Official publicity from the Culture Ministry focuses entirely on what will happen, not on who is staying away. The Central Opera Theatre of Beijing is getting massive amounts of pre-festival publicity, as are the renowned acrobats of Wuqiao County in Hebei Province, considered China's "hometown of acrobatics."

The 70 Chinese groups are slated to give 170 performances of music, dance, opera, drama, ballet, acrobatics and puppet shows. The Central Opera Theatre will perform "Madame Butterfly" and "Carmen" in the opera's first performances since its "Carmen" at Finland's Savonlinna Opera Festival in July, 1988.

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