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Review, 7-30: Rites of Choreography
Visions of the Known from Shen Wei
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung
NEW YORK -- The multi-talented
Shen Wei certainly has an overall vision for his dance works. He
not only choreographed "The Rite of Spring" and "Folding," performed
last week at Laguardia High School Concert Hall as part of the Lincoln
Center Festival, he designed the painted set elements and the costumes.
Shen Wei seems to soak up various elements from all over the place
and squeeze droplets throughout his own work. He studied and worked
with the Hunan State Xian Opera from a young age, helped to found
Guangdong Modern Dance Company, and received a scholarship with
Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab, after which he moved to New York. All
these influences emerged in this program seen on July 23, and more.
Wei's "The Rite of Spring"
has many earmarks of contemporary dance coming out of Europe --
socked feet; costumes of variously combined leotards, tunics, and
separates of the same palette; and a sort of bleak industrial atmosphere,
not to mention the use of Stravinsky's music. The white pancaked
members of Shen Wei Dance Arts performed atop a giant canvas painted
with an irregular white grid. Fazil Say performed the score live
on a digital piano; he accompanied a recording of himself to make
a performance for four hands. Say's thrilling rendition emphasized
the primal nature of the composition, and effectively leveraged
the spare percussiveness of the piano against its lusher capabilities.
Shen pays little heed
to any narrative, instead emphasizing the bold strokes of the music
in movements that keyed literally off of the score's varying and
strident rhythms, perhaps driven by some internalized biological
metronome. The dancers repeated a traditional opera step in both
works, a flat-footed shuffle with the arms held in a crooked semi-attention
alongside the torso. They added spins, and on a big chord, all dropped
to the ground before taking turns doing big individual moves. Shen
makes interesting work of sitting, jumping in an eventual seated
position, legs pre-folded into pinwheels. The thirteen dancers (including
Shen) massed together and dispersed, moving between structured rigidity
and fractured chaos. Everything seemed as if it should have been
new and contemporary; at the same time, it all felt very familiar.
"Folding," an exercise
in high mannerism to music by John Tavener (plus some Tibetan Buddhist
chant), presented some visual stunners. The performers wore crimson
or black wrapped skirts with trains, white body paint on their upper
halves (the women wore white bandeau tops), and egg-shaped helmets
of the same tone. The elegant painted backdrop by Shen, featuring
a fish and some signatory chop marks, took inspiration from an 18th-century
watercolor by Ba Dan San Ren. The dancers employed the same shuffling
step as in 'Rite,' entering downstage of the proscenium and carving
half circles, two at a time, like gears meshing -- a hypnotic repetition.
They spun and their skirts, which laid bold trailing strokes of
color, whipped around their legs. Two dancers merged, one entering
astride another's shoulders, or two torsos hovering over one skirt.
Shen performed an angst-filled
solo downstage, supported by a frieze of dancers. In the gloaming,
they ascended a staircase almost motionlessly, their unfolding skirts
making them seem like giants. This highly theatrical work spoke
of continuity, procession, and inexorable evolution. In a page from
certain Butoh companies, Shen Wei and Dancers drew out their curtain
calls into indulgent, crowd-manipulating scenes. The audience went
along willingly. Undoubtedly a grand vision guided this work, but
again, it felt oddly familiar throughout. Whether this is due to
the artist incorporating influences or my own overactive imagination,
I'm not sure. David Ferri design the brilliant lighting schemes.
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