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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Shen Wei's Hybrids

Posted by on Tue, Jul 3, 2007 at 12:43 PM

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Reynolds Theater was packed last night as Shen Wei’s dancers floated across the stage with an almost inhuman stoicism in a two piece performance that included Rite of Spring and Folding. A painter, filmmaker, photographer, set and costume designer, and choreographer, Shen Wei’s total concern for all artistic elements moved the full-house audience to a resounding standing ovation. The lack of composure of the spectators stood in contrast to the complete, almost inhuman stoicism of the dancers, who remained in character throughout their intricate and practiced bow, betraying not even a flicker of a smile.

Shen Wei combines the arts in his performances. In Rite of Spring, for example, he created the dance floor out of a large abstract canvas painting he made himself. During the performance, the way the dancers occupy the space of the stage reflects some of the same spatial balance properties of painting, as well. Shen Wei also encourages his dancers to “be inside the music” and a section of Rite of Spring lets the dancers respond to the music through their nervous system, manifesting nervous energy in seemingly unnatural twitching.

Yet, Shen Wei is not solely concerned with the fusion of the arts; he also aims to meld together Eastern and Western cultures in his pieces. Dancer Hou Ying notes that she sees Folding as more Chinese, and Rite of Spring as more Western. Yet the contrast between East and West is also evident within the individual pieces. In Folding, Hou says that the colors of the piece are Chinese, but the style is Western.

But, to be honest, many members of the audience saw the performance, especially Folding, as alien. The large, flesh-colored (in this case, white, as the dancers bodies had been powdered) head-pieces blended with the dancers’ faces, making them look like enlarged cephalic extensions. Though Shen Wei created the piece to contemplate the act of folding, the repeated gesture throughout of looking upward, and the stiff placement of the hands just underneath the hips suggested that the dancers portrayed something only human-like, an assertion that strengthened as the dancers ended the piece ascending into an ambiguous black backstage.

The interpretations of a work that pulls on abstractions from so many art forms are endless. (One ADF student even offered up the possibility that cocaine inspired some of the choreography of Rite of Spring.) “We get so many responses about what the piece means,” say the dancers. “And each and every one of them is valid.”

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