Epoch Times Staff

SADDENED: Shen Yun Performing Arts principal dancers Cindy Liu (L) and Leon Chao at a press conference in New York on Jan. 25. They spoke of their disappointment with Hong Kong authorities, who refused to grant entry visas to seven key production staff on the eve of the company's trip to perform there. Shen Yun was forced to cancel seven sold-out shows. (Jan Jekielek/The Epoch Times)

NEW YORK--Shen Yun performers got word while still in costume at the final rehearsal before taking off for Hong Kong: seven sold-out shows in Hong Kong had been canceled. Seven crew members for the company had visas denied at the last minute.

Dancers and other company members for New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts said the cancellation of the sold-out shows was most likely due to pressure on the Hong Kong government from Chinese communist authorities.

"The news was brought to us after our final dress rehearsal prior to departure," said principal dancer Leon Chao at a press conference near Times Square Monday. "There was a long moment of silence, faces of devastation. Everyone was in complete shock. I had my bags packed already. Everybody's dream on our team was to bring back Chinese culture to China."

Shen Yun performs Chinese classical and folk dances, covering the many dynasties and ethnic groups that make up the nation's 5,000-year heritage. Much of the traditional culture presented by Shen Yun has been lost, buried, or altered under the current regime in China.

The much-anticipated performances in Hong Kong were scheduled for Jan. 27-31. However, show organizers in Hong Kong were informed on Jan. 21 that visas for seven technical crew members were denied by immigration authorities, saying the jobs could be filled by local labor. One of the seven did later receive a visa to enter Hong Kong.

Company manager Vina Lee said the reason for refusing the visas was ridiculous.

"Our crew is part of the company, we cannot go anywhere without them," she said. She said the visa application process in Hong Kong normally takes about four weeks and the company started the process on Oct. 13 last year.

Production manager Gregory Xu said the decision was illogical and unacceptable. Technical staff cannot be replaced by training someone in one or two days, he said.

"You have to be trained for years," Xu said. "You have to work with the dance, understand the dance, understand the music, and understand the production manager's cues."

'Just a Pretext'

Lighting engineer Chia-hwa Tsai was one of the seven whose visa application was denied. Tsai previously worked in a theater in Taiwan that hosted marquee companies such as American Ballet Theater, Disney on Ice, and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

"They all have their own lighting designer, sound engineer, and projection operator," Tsai said. "It requires time to know the show and study and work together to provide the best effect on the stage. This is really a common practice in this industry."

CALL FOR SUPPORT: Gregory Xu (L), production manager, and Vina Lee, company manager and choreographer, called on the people of Hong Kong to stand up for freedom of artistic expression, after seven company members were denied visas to Hong Kong shortly before the company was to perform there. (Jan Jekielek/The Epoch Times)

Company manager Lee explained the background.

"Shen Yun Performing Arts has the mission to revive the culture that has been damaged the last few decades by the Communist Party," Lee said, referring to the regime in mainland China.

"The Chinese culture is a divine culture," Lee said, referring to traditional beliefs in Buddhas, Taos, and Gods. "Communism is against all these principles. That's why the [Chinese] government is scared."

She said traditional Chinese principles such as truth, compassion, loyalty, tolerance, filial piety all are expressed in the show.

"Our programs are all lifting up people's spirits," Lee said. "The communists are scared. We feel regret that the Hong Kong authorities, under pressure, took this step to deny the visas."

Show MC Leeshai Lemish said the visa denials were a suppression of artistic expression and infringement on the freedoms that Hong Kong is supposed to have under the "one country, two systems" arrangement after China resumed ownership in 1997.

"Audience members in China had their tickets confiscated by security authorities," Lemish said. "[Ticketholders] have been arrested and detained in China."

He said dance pieces include ancient tales, such as Mulan and The Loyalty of Yue Fei, as well as contemporary stories, such as those of Falun Gong.

Shen Yun's artists include practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice banned and persecuted in China, and its performances include artistic representations of Chinese citizens standing up to end the persecution. Supporters say the sensitivity of the subject for the Chinese regime is behind the refusal.

Actions in Progress

Local organizers are pursuing legal action against the Hong Kong government, Lee said, based in part on the considerable expenses already incurred by Shen Yun, the organizers, and the audience members who paid for show tickets and made travel and lodging arrangements.

The show presenters are working to bring the show to Hong Kong soon, despite the setback, Lee said. The presenters in Hong Kong include New Tang Dynasty TV, The Epoch Times, and the Hong Kong Falun Dafa Association. The Epoch Times is a worldwide media sponsor of Shen Yun Performing Arts.

Hoihwa Lee, a Shen Yun dancer who grew up in Hong Kong, said, "I'm so disappointed in the Hong Kong government. I was really looking forward to go back to Hong Kong for my family and friends." She said at least 14 friends and family members had already purchased tickets.

Lead dancer Cindy Liu said, "For something like this to happen in Hong Kong, which is supposed to be a democratic region--it's incredibly unbelievable.

"For me as a performer on stage, to know that I was a part of something that's able to touch the lives of so many people, to bring happiness and hope to their lives, I don't think there's anything, really, that makes me happier. I was really excited to be able to maybe do the same thing for people of Hong Kong, also to take our show to Hong Kong and perform it in China for the first time and to find out that we can't do that anymore, it's really devastating."

Shen Yun has three dance companies with three orchestras touring the globe simultaneously. The company that was to perform in Hong Kong is now preparing for its next set of shows, in New York during Chinese New Year. Radio City Music Hall will host Shen Yun for seven shows, Feb. 13-14 and 20-21.