National Post Allison Hanes, Published: Thursday, April 24, 2008
New York-based Divine Performing Arts is scheduled to stage several Chinese Spectaculars in Alberta starting next week, with controversial dance acts such as The Risen Lotus Flower and The Power of Awareness, as it winds down its 65-city world tour.
Tourism Calgary was supposed to host an opening-night reception for the internationally renowned troupe's April 30-May 2 performances in the city. It was also planning to welcome some of the singers and dancers with its signature White Hat ceremony, as it did when the group passed through town last year, which recognizes visitors as honorary Calgarians.
Travel Alberta, the provincial tourism body, had also agreed to put up the performers in Banff for three days before their three-date Edmonton engagement May 5-7 in exchange for television advertising on the producer's Chinese-language satellite television station, New Tang Dynasty TV.
But both Alberta travel organizations have now pulled their participation.
The reason, said Caylan Ford, a spokeswoman for NTDTV Canada, conveyed in e-mails and phone conversations with the agencies, appears to be disapproval from Chinese officials.
"That was basically the message -- they were told not to have a direct relationship with this show," she said. "We have no ill will toward them or anything. We wish they would have taken a stronger stance, but I can understand they were put in a very difficult position. They said that they really have to do business in China and this could endanger that."
One e-mail, distributed by the show's backers, went so far as to cite an intervention from China's official diplomatic representative in Calgary and referred to the affair as "a sensitive situation."
"Our managing director has received implicit instruction for full cooperation from Wi Xinjian, Consul General of [the] Chinese Consulate," a Travel Alberta employee wrote. "I am truly sorry that I have been instructed to rescind all services to facilitate the visit."
Calls were not answered at the Chinese Consulate in Calgary Thursday.
Travel Alberta did not return calls.
"This is a systematic, premeditated violation of our national sovereignty in Canada and of free speech and artistic expression in Canada," complained Ms. Ford. But she said it is not an isolated incident.
"This happens in every city and every country that this tour group performs in. The Chinese consulates and embassies go to great lengths to interfere with it however they can. They've threatened performers, venues, elected officials, sponsors, even national governments, telling them not to support this show or not to allow this show to play."
Malaysia cancelled the group's shows in the country in March, with an unnamed official saying in news reports: "We have to take care of our relationship with China."
All this over a stage show that features such sequences as the Tibetan Sleeve Dance, the Mongolian Chopstick Dance and or the Drummers of the Tang Court, often by elaborately costumed performers glistening with sequins.
The People's Republic objects to Divine Performing Arts' sympathetic portrayal of the spiritual movement Falun Gong, which is outlawed in China.
At least one number in the production is quite "explicit" in showing Falun Gong practitioners resisting authorities, said Ms. Ford. There are also personal proclivities at play among some cast members, she added, such as the principal dancer whose mother was "tortured to blindness" for belonging to the sect.
This is not the first time China has tried to stymie Divine Performing Arts' shows in Canada, said Joe Wang, the president of NTDTV Canada, but it's the first time they've been so successful.
City councillors in Toronto have passed along letters from Chinese diplomats urging them not to attend the show when it passed through town in January, said Mr. Wang. Artists, dignitaries and sponsors are widely believed to have been dissuaded from supporting the production.
"Different people react differently," he said. "Why do they pick on this show? To be honest they are probably right... It's a powerful show with a strong message in there."