Wei Dance Arts
Shen Wei Dance Arts' "Map," which had its world premier at the Lincoln Center Festival last week, is an unfortunate exercise of two kinds; it's a limited exploration of body movement and a choreographic testament to the wisdom of the "show, don't tell" maxim. Shen Wei has proven himself capable of stunningly beautiful and original work, but for "Map" he over-explains his motivations. (There are three full pages of program notes describing the dances' seven sections and their respective relation to music excerpted from Steve Reich's "The Desert Music".) This does not bode well.
The back drop—designed by the choreographer and drawn from his studies for the dance—sums it up nicely. It resembles a chalkboard in an advanced trigonometry classroom where, "Good Will Hunting" style, scribbled equations have been left for the next mathematical genius to figure out. The crossed-out figures, swooping arrows and circled symbols look impressive, but Shen Wei's choreography never breaks the code. We see only the ernest work of the dancers as they thrash and roll and flop through loftily entitled segments. Shen Wei's repetitive, slack-limbed movement is no match for the grandeur of the music and, with the exception of a series of trios in which three women brusquely move from one tableaux to the next and a clever sequence built around the deconstruction of a turn, the piece never moves beyond workshop material. In "Map," Shen Wei claims to have found "seven new ways to dance," but for all its intellectual pretensions it just doesn't add up to much.
in "Near The Terrace, Part I" (a New York premiere), we are
free to enter, unencumbered, a magnificently strange world. Set to the
haunting "Fur Alina" and "Spiegel im Spiegel" from
Arvo Part's "Alina," "Near The Terrace, Part I" is
riveting. Inspired by the works of Belgian painter Paul Delvaux, the piece
is less of a dance than a painting brought—just barely—to
life. (Shen Wei's time spent working with Martha Clarke is evident.) Powdered,
bare-breasted women recline on steep steps that ascend into a cerulean
blue. Their vaguely turn-of-the-century style skirts of tattered white
material cinch the waist and trail behind in watery streams. Men roll
in and out like porcelain circus clowns in slow motion, creating a preternatural
calm that's mesmerizing. And amidst the milkiness there's an occasional
slash of red or black; a nude dancer bathed in golden light, looks godlike
dragging a long crimson scarf along the top of the steps. Or, a statuesque
dark-skinned dancer appears and exits wearing a large, blossom-like headdress
resembling an open wound. We don't know what these moments mean, but the
glacial imagery hovers elusively, enticing us to reach our own conclusions.
The piece ends with dancers crouching in silhouette at the top of the
steps and sliding down to the rustle of their garments like larvae emerging
from sticky cocoons. It's a creepy image, but intriguing enough to make
one wonder about Part II.