November 12th, 2009 5:33 pm | by Kate Williams News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Live Review: Shen Wei Dance Arts

Anyone who watched the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics is familiar with Shen Wei. Remember that group of paint-covered dancers gliding across an open scroll, eventually producing beautiful calligraphy? Yeah, that's him.

Last night, we got to see a less grand, but no less meditatively magical, performance by the genius (yes, he won a "Genius" award) choreographer's company. In a manner evoking the stunning visual artistry of the Olympics, the dancers were already hard at work when the doors opened, calmly laying down blue and white crepe paper in a mandala pattern. They were silent and hardly moving–I can't imagine how long it took them to lay the whole piece down. Audience members were either gathered mesmerized around the stage or sitting and grumbling in their seats, flustered with the change of pace with which they were greeted. The grumblers should have kept their mouths shut.

The performance began with the curtain still up–no artificial separation of audience member and dancer tonight–the eight dancers gliding across the stage, dismantling the mandala as if puffs of breath from a Tibetan monk. This first piece, Re- (Part I) was billed as an abstract interpretation of Wei's visit to Tibet. This is not the maligned and struggling Tibet; this is the proudly majestic Tibet. The dancers move as if without spines, twisting amongst each other to create a sense of calm. I found myself taking slower, more gentle breaths as the piece continued, completely content if not for the nagging desire to see the dancers interact with each other.

It wasn't long into the second piece, Re- (Part III), however, before the performers made contact. In an act bravely comical, two dancers broke out from a marching squadron and leaned against each other, neck to neck. The slowly lowered themselves towards the floor, ever so carefully, until they dropped with a bang onto the stage. This act of disobedience became a common thread throughout the piece, inspired this time by Wei's travels in China, contrasting militaristic stiffness with pastoral flexibility. It was hard not to find a motive in the piece–as it continued one witnessed the transformation from a green China to a gray one. Indeed, the final sequence featured a soloist still dressed in green being overwhelmed by the rest of the now industrially dressed company. While just as beautifully choreographed as Part I, Part III left us with a taste of uncertainty. The sense of calm had dissipated.

Photo courtesy of White Bird Dance
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