Shen Wei Dance Arts

August 9, 2006

Shen Wei Dance Arts
Ted Shawn Theatre, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, MA

August 9-13, 2006

Reviewed by Theodore Bale

Shen Wei Dance Arts in Re- (Part I)

Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival


Shen Wei has never seemed a narrative choreographer. Most of the dances he’s made since founding his New York based company in 2000 are abstract amalgamations of music, movement, and his own painting. Each proposes a new strategy, a new system that becomes more evident to the viewer as the dance proceeds.

For example, time seems to stop in his 2001 Behind Resonance, with its slow, statuesque movement, long velvet skirts for the men and the women, and David Lang’s atmospheric electronic score. Then, in The Rite of Spring (2002-3), Shen dispensed with the original scenario and focused instead on the concept of electricity moving through the body. He decorated the stage floor with long stripes of white paint that smeared with each step from the dancers. And Map (2005), shown this summer at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, is a brilliant “charting” of the human body set to Steve Reich’s Desert Music, the various movements devoted to exploring the pelvis, the large joints, the breath, and so on.

In the context of his company’s repertory, then, it was strange to read in the program that Shen’s latest dance is attributable to a sequence of actual events. Re- (Part I) is broadly based on my feeling of the land, the people, the religion, and the culture of Tibet, and is inspired by my recent journeys there, he wrote. Watching Re- (Part I), one might think that Tibet is a largely pastoral and spiritual place where people wear loose clothing and play, solemn-faced, in paper confetti. Shen’s movement for the quartet of dancers was deliberate and sustained, seemingly coordinated through unison breathing, and recalling the course of a Vinyasa yoga session. Unison phrases alternated with moments when a soloist was framed against the other three dancers, to little theatrical effect.

To the best of my knowledge, Tibetans do not dance on sand mandalas, since they are painstakingly created by monks for sacred Buddhist rituals. But here Shen has created his own stage-sized mandala from bits of paper, and it becomes carelessly dispersed as the dance continues. Sacred Tibetan melodies from singer Ani Choying Drolma were the only accompaniment for this largely naive dance about a territory in extraordinary upheaval, and they provided less foundation for innovation than the Western scores Shen usually chooses for his larger works. See and