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Review 2, 7-29: Cartography 101
Shen Wei's 'Map' to Nowhere
Copyright 2005 Maura Nguyen Donohue
NEW YORK -- Chinese-born
(and trained) and New York-based choreographer Shen Wei has enjoyed
a fairly rapid rise to prominence in the modern dance world. His
five-year old Shen Wei Dance Arts company has maintained a very
active international touring schedule of some considerable venues.
His large company is full of beautiful dancers and his background
as an accomplished visual artist makes for an array of dazzling
images. But he recently concluded his third consecutive appearance
at the Lincoln Center Festival with the kind of unfettered indulgence
a cynical dance insider might expect from a too-much-too-soon-kid.
"Near the Terrace, Part
I," commissioned by the American Dance Festival in 2000, opened
the program at the New York State Theater this past Sunday with
haunting majesty. Shen takes inspiration from the paintings of Belgian
surrealist Paul Delvaux and orchestrates
a stark and seductive moving tableaux full of white painted, half-naked
women and men. The scale of the work is truly operatic, with a large,
steep staircase set at the back of the stage for dancers to slowly
ascend and cross. Tiny white painted palm trees pepper the landscape,
among which the dancers slowly drop to the floor, creating the illusion
of gods in repose.
A woman enters at one
point gliding through the statuesque dancers with a long papery
white skirt flowing behind her. An unpainted naked woman walks across
the steps with her back arched and a long scarlet red cloth dragging
behind her. One unpainted black woman slowly turns among them, creating
a striking contrast. A few women crouch and quickly spring straight
into the arms of the men, holding themselves stiff and parallel
to the floor. The quick bursts work like a chime at the conclusion
of meditation, providing a momentary zing to the slow daze seeping
into my head. This is a publicity photographer's dream, a continuing
series of striking images deepened by David Ferri's ethereal lighting.
I can't help pondering the budget, which perhaps with Shen's triple
duties as choreographer, set designer and costume designer isn't
as outrageous as the lavish work implies.
"Map," a premiere commissioned
by the festival, followed intermission and apparently required epic
program notes. Several pages specify the particular aspects of the
movement vocabulary for each section. The dancing is phenomenal
and the dancers exceedingly well rehearsed but the notes, read afterwards,
are entirely redundant. The dance never develops beyond the obvious
involved explorations of impulse and response despite running on
(and on) for close to an hour.
The dancers explore
rotation, bouncing, isolations and internal circles with awesome
mastery and some seriously righteous performances. Juicy, powerful,
fluid movement phrases abound. Arms reach out, shift, drop; bodies
twist, spring and recoil and I'm practically biting myself to keep
from twitching in my seat in visceral empathy but the cumulative
effect of the work is one of tedium. It is, in the end, interminable.
And predictable. The dance is so heavily reliant on its relationship
to Steve Reich's "The Desert Music" that the dancers end up reminding
me of equalizer bars so exactly do they match the score. It's as
if your really clever, really driven and overly confident Comp.
classmate didn't know when to call his movement study done.
Except it's at Lincoln
Center for a hearty chunk o' change.
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