Who locked us out of Moldova’s theater?

We left Istanbul early in the morning on May 23. We reached the Bulgarian border around lunch and got through customs three hours later. From there up and down the roller-coaster, ill-maintained Balkan Mountain roads and to the Romanian border. Two and a half hours later we headed to Bucharest on roads that immediately made us miss Bulgaria. An over-night stop, a flat tire, and many potholes later we arrived at the Moldovan border and, after the routine three-hour delay, approached our hotel in the capital of Chisinau at 3am.

Four hours later we headed to the theater to setup for the show that night. But at 8am, when we arrived at the backstage entrance with the truck ready to offload, we were stopped at the door. “You are not allowed in.” “ There is no show.”

We waited for the theater director, Valeri Sircanu, who had told us the show would take place in spite of the pressures, to arrive. Sircanu, a young woman dressed in a pinstripe business suit pulled up in her Audi, brushed past us and darted into the hallway, shooing away our approaches with a flip of her hand behind her back as she disappeared into the theater. A few moments later she came out, rushed into her Audi and screeched away. She never returned, but in her stead came security guards who locked the door.

Hosting organization representative Tatiana Chiriac trying to enter the theater according to Shen Yun 's contract to perform there on May 25 (photo courtesy of Annie Li)

The backstage entrance had probably never seen such action before. Tatiana Chiriac, head of our hosting organization, the Moldova Falun Dafa Association, and a former judge showed up. She asked for an explanation why her contract with the theater was reneged. None was given. ProTV, Publika TV, and other media started piling in. They interviewed Shen Yun performers, but were also blocked at the theater door.

ProTV interview Shen Yun dancer Jessica Quach behind the National Theater's backstage entrance (photo by Annie Li)

This scene carried on into the afternoon and then approached showtime. At 6:45pm, when dancers usually finish the pre-show warm-up and go change into their bright costumes, when the musicians usually change into their tuxedos and black skirts, when backstage usually vibrates with our sopranos’ voices – we stood silently on the front steps of the square Soviet-style theater looking out at the plaza in front of us in the heart of the capital.

Shen Yun performers on the theater's footsteps at showtime (photo by Annie Li)

Hundreds of audience members, elegantly dressed as you would for a night at the nation’s opera house started pouring in. A boy wearing a vest and little bowtie looked confused. A woman who took a 30-hour train from Moscow was holding back tears.

The hosting organization held a makeshift press conference, their volunteers, who also came from Romania, Ukraine, and Belarus, held banners with still-fresh paint that protested the Moldovan theater and government giving in to pressure from the Chinese embassy.

Hosting organization holds a makeshift press conference with Shen Yun performers in the background on the theater footsteps (photo by Annie Li)

As audience members began figuring out what was going on, they came up to our dancers with bouquets bought at a flower market several blocks away.

(photo by Annie Li)

(photo by Annie Li)

Some ticket-holders rounded the corner to the box office and asked for a refund. As you see in the photo, it was impolitely refused.

Ticket office (photo by Annie Li)

Almost an identical scene repeated the following day, with audience members taking the microphone to vent their frustration. This time, the ticket office was locked. A sign had been put up – the theater holds no responsibility for refunding tickets. If you want your money back, contact the hosting organization representative (the one who was the victim of breech of contract), Tatiana Chiriac; here’s her phone number.

From the information I’ve been able to gather so far from meeting with a Moldovan government representative and from media interviews, here’s what appears to have happened:

-       The director of the National Theater, Valerie Sircanu, revealed that she had received daily visits from the Chinese embassy. She admitted this on several occasions, although later, on live television, she denied ever being contacted by the Chinese authorities.

-       The Ministry of Culture sent a letter to the theater director recommending that they cancel the show. On the same live talk show with Jurnal TV, the minister himself denied any Chinese authorities involvement.

-       A Foreign Ministry representative, who had served with the Moldovan embassy in Beijing, instructed the theater director that it was the ministry’s position that the show should be canceled.

-       The Chinese embassy also visited the mayor’s office to ask them not to support Shen Yun.

Oh, did I mention that last July the PRC promised Moldova a $1 billion loan (Reuters article)? At the time of the show’s cancellation, the Moldovan government is still eagerly waiting the check to come in.

It appears that at our press event in front of the theater we also had a few friends of the Chinese Communist Party eager to make a good impression. Take a look at these two photos – the second taken an instant after they realized we were photographing them. The photo is a little blurry, but you get the idea.

(photo by Annie Li)

(photo by Annie Li)

See Moldova’ Jurnal TV report here.

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