Barefootblogger: thoughts on dance

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Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

I am a dancer with Minneapolis based James Sewell Ballet, a small, contemporary ballet company. I also choreograph independently.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Thoughts on ShenWei Dance Arts

January 29, 2006

The performers entered singly, like statues. The space was undressed, bare, exposed. Wearing strapless, velvet, too-long gowns performers draped themselves against the back wall, off the front of the stage and in the center with regality and slowness. The drone of the music underscored the scene; this was a meditation.

The piece was "Behind Resonance" and indeed it continues to resonate. Amid the established languid pace moments of percussion and momentum were set in relief. Movements were repeated singly and in couples and groups. Motifs were layered just when our eye became accustomed.

Eventually a few women shed their dresses. Their nudity was startling white but soon became an organic part of the décor like curvaceous driftwood. The painfully slow dimming of the lights at the end allowed time for reflection. I knew I had experienced something great.

Intermission was 37 minutes long. They are forgiven.

"The Rite of Spring" was next and I was looking forward to it with great anticipation. Having learned Paul Taylor’s sacrificial virgin solo I am intimate with a portion of the score. Like Taylor, Wei chose to use the four-hand piano version, this one by Fazil Say. The piece began in silence with the performers in two lines upstage to downstage on each side of the “stage space”: a giant canvas designed by Wei interpreting the music with it’s monochromatic and swirling grays, blacks and whites. Whereas in the first piece the entire space was a stage, this piece had limits, boundaries, rules. The floor canvas was the hot spot, the playing field. I’ve seen this device before and also to great effect: Wim Vandekeybus’ "Les Porteuses de Mauvaises Nouvelles" starts with a performer throwing a dart onto the wooden platform that became the field-of-play, foreshadowing the danger that was to come; Myron Johnson’s "Hello Dali" employs a giant sandbox; a small circle of flour in Jim Bovino’s "Soft Sleepers" hosts a birthday party.

In "The Rite of Spring" the performers again entered individually, then the music began. The score has such identifiable roots in western dance; upon hearing the opening strains Nijinsky is channeled. He is promptly forgotten as Wei abstractly sets out his own, singular, physical response. Like the first piece movements are established and passed among the performers. Yet here individuals have exclusive rights to material serving to set them apart from the fold; everyone plays the sacrificial virgin. Despite the program notes telling me that this was pure abstraction, the story the score tells is there whether Wei directly acknowledges it or not.

The couple in front of me left mid-piece, first him and then her a few minutes later. What was she waiting for, an explanation? Others walked out as well and I smiled to myself, confirming once again that I was seeing something great.

Wei is a masterful and brave choreographer. He allows images to linger, to have a life and duration of their own. This is where I see his eastern influence most. His is a hybrid of cultures, aesthetics and mediums. His company of performers is up to the task and top-notch. It was a privilege to experience them. I ran out as soon as the piece ended though I was sure to applaud as the curtain lowered. Once I made it down to the ground floor, however, I paused to peek in. The artists were stretched across the stage receiving their due: a well-deserved and long applause. I made my way out again, not wanting to see anyone I knew, wanting instead to let the images continue to resonate as I walked out and into the rain.