A Danish theater’s inconsistent explanation regarding its abrupt decision to walk away from a nearly signed contract with Shen Yun Performing Arts, as well as previous setbacks for the New York-based Chinese classical dance company in Denmark, have fueled public debate about the influence of communist China in the Nordic country.
Shen Yun was set to perform next April at the Odeon Music and Theatre Hall in Odense, Denmark’s third-largest city. But the theater canceled the contract on Oct. 15.
“We have contacted with Odeon Music and Theatre center to perform Shen Yun since two years ago,” Benny Brix, spokesman for Shen Yun’s in-country presenter, the Danish Falun Dafa Association, told the Chinese-language Epoch Times on Nov. 26. “We finally reached an agreement to invite Shen Yun to perform three shows in the theater on April 2 and 3, 2020.”
According to Brix, the association received a draft contract from Odeon on Oct. 9; after that, they had a meeting on Oct. 14 in Odense in which both parties confirmed all items in the contract, including arrangements for Shen Yun’s performers to be accommodated in the Radisson Blu HC Andersen Hotel, which has a partnership with Odeon.
Though the contract was to be signed the next day, Brix said the association received an email from Odeon saying that the theater had already booked a business conference for the two days that Shen Yun was set to perform.
Shen Yun and Communist Meddling
Founded in 2006, Shen Yun tours every year, consistently performing in sold-out venues worldwide. Its mission, according to the Shen Yun official website, is to showcase the splendor of China’s thousands of years of civilization through classical dance.
However, Shen Yun’s performances also depict the persecution of Falun Gong, earning it the enmity of Beijing. Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a Chinese spiritual practice that has been banned and violently suppressed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 1999. Shen Yun’s commercial success and critical acclaim have made it a target for the CCP’s overseas interference operations. In addition to direct threats against Shen Yun employees and acts of sabotage, Chinese diplomatic personnel have put economic and political pressure on theaters and governments not to allow Shen Yun performances.
Reports since October suggest that Odeon may have lied to the Danish Falun Dafa Association about the reason for not signing the contract.
On Dec. 5, Denmark’s TV 2 received an Oct. 22 email sent by an Odeon employee to a local cultural organization, confirming that the theater was not booked on April 3, one of the days on which Shen Yun would have performed.
The email, which invited the cultural organization to schedule its activity for that day, came seven days after Odeon canceled its contract for the Shen Yun performances.
According to Brix, one possibility is that Odeon canceled its contract as a result of self-censorship. Another possibility is direct interference by the Chinese embassy in Denmark.
It’s not the first instance of Shen Yun encountering trouble in Denmark. Documents suggest that the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen canceled Shen Yun performances as a result of Chinese regime pressure several times since 2008.
In 2016, the Chinese embassy attempted to interfere with Shen Yun in the country’s second-largest city, Aarhus, by trying to force the theater and city hall to stop the contract. In that instance, Shen Yun managed to hold a successful performance at the venue.
Danish lawmakers, Odense city council members, and local media have questioned Odeon’s motives.
“Shen Yun is a fantastic company [and] performs fantastic shows … [interference against Shen Yun in Denmark has] happened all the time. I see this as harassment and pressure from the communist Chinese embassy in Denmark,” Danish Parliament member Soren Espersen told The Epoch Times on Dec. 10.
On Dec. 4, Danish congresswoman Pernille Bendixen urged Danish Minister for Social Affairs and the Interior Astrid Krag to explain why Odeon canceled the Shen Yun contract.
Following Bendixen’s inquiry, Jens Belling, chairman of Odeon’s managing company Belling Holding APS, published a statement that contradicted the theater’s earlier reasoning. He said that from the company’s point of view, it was more urgent to hold the business conference.