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November 19, 2002

Show by China's disabled cancelled

From: Straits Times, Singapore
Nov. 19, 2002

The controversial performance had caused concern among arts practitioners. But organisers say cancellation is due to poor sales

By Clara Chow

A CONTROVERSIAL performance by the China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe has been cancelled.

Fifty-five members from the troupe had been slated to perform a show titled My Dream at the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay from Friday to Monday.

But, citing poor ticket sales, joint organisers Holy Cow! Productions and Dynadelta said on Monday that the show has been called off.

Since the news broke that the troupe was coming to town, allegations of human rights abuse - including hard labour, sexual abuse and human trading - within its members had spread among some members of the arts community here.

One of the allegations was that members of the troupe who are not up to performing standards are made to work as servants to the troupe's ranking officers and their families.

An Internet posting also said that a Chinese journalist had come under fire from the authorities in China in 1998 for reporting on scandals of sexual abuse within the troupe.

But none of these accusations have been substantiated.

The troupe, which includes deaf dancers, a blind pianist and five performers who have had limbs amputated, has attracted wide media coverage in Western countries, not least because it is headed by Deng Pufang, the son of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

Deng Pufang, who was paralysed from the waist down after Red Guards threw him from a window during the Cultural Revolution, is chairman of the China Disabled Persons' Federation.

Mr Paul Rae, 29, co-artistic director of local theatre group Spell#7, had posted an open letter on an arts community Internet mailing list early this month. In it, he urged organisers and the Esplanade to clarify the allegations.

He told Life! yesterday: 'If there was any truth in the allegations, they needed to be addressed by the promoters and venue. But if there wasn't, that needed to be addressed, too.'

He felt that the way the show was marketed was odd. The dance had been described in its publicity materials as one that 'projects the dignity of mankind, the value of life... the fortitude of will'.

He said: 'This seems to cast the performers in the role of victims from the outset, which is potentially disempowering and makes it hard to recognise the artistic merits of the show.

'Human rights abuses or not, it suggests a way of framing the performance which perhaps didn't strike a strong chord with sufficient numbers of audience-members.'

Artistic director for The Necessary Stage, Alvin Tan, 39, says the lack of information about the human rights track record of the troupe makes it hard to take a stand.

Playwright-journalist Tan Tarn How, 41, says that the e-mail posted about the issue shows the social responsibility the local arts community feels towards what is performed here.

He said: 'What I'm most surprised and gratified by is that the arts community did not just take the accusations at face value. There were quite a number of people who looked for evidence on the Internet and concluded there was very little. I'm glad they kept an open mind.'

A spokesman for Holy Cow! and Dynadelta said: 'We were aware of the allegations, but are not affected. We don't have further comments on this issue. Furthermore, the decision to bring the troupe in was made way in advance in January this year.'

He added that the cancellation did not have anything to do with the allegations.

A Lianhe Zaobao report said yesterday that fewer than 20 per cent of the 8,000 tickets had been sold.

The organisers, however, told the Chinese daily that the poor sales were not a result of the ticket prices, which started at $50 and went up to $170.

The event's ticketing agent Sistic declined to comment on the issue, while a spokesman for its venue, Esplanade, said: 'With regard to the cancellation, all comments will be the prerogative of the organiser.'

# Ticket refunds start from Dec 8 to 14, from 11 am to 8 pm daily at 2 Tan Quee Lan Street, Primero Place, #02-03, Singapore 188091 (tel: 6336-5585).

Copyright © 2002 Singapore Press Holdings.