For many years, the Chinese-born American artist Shen Wei has lived parallel lives—as a choreographer and as a painter. Though the two have intersected in his own visual design for his sweeping dance works, they've never been so fully, simultaneously on display as they were in December, when he premiered Shen Wei — In Black, White and Gray at Miami Dade College's Museum of Art + Design during Art Basel Miami Beach. The exhibition paired 11 of his vast canvases with a 12th, less stationary work: a dance for 12 members of his New York City–based company, Shen Wei Dance Arts. Choreographed for a mobile audience that followed the dancers through the galleries, the piece is now being reconfigured for more traditional stages at this summer's Spoleto Festival USA and American Dance Festival.
You've been painting since you were a child, but the Miami show was your first large-scale museum exhibition. Why now?
Being a painter feels so personal. It's like opening up your journal to the audience. Some painters want to be in the business sooner, have their name out there, but I don't rely on painting as a business. I think it takes a long time to find something you really want to share—something original, my own language. So I've always pulled back. But this felt like the right time with the right space and the right curator. Also, my dance company is a bit more stable now, so I am more able to focus on my painting. Everything fell into place.
Why are your paintings more private for you than your choreography?
It's such a different approach as an artist. I paint by myself. I lock myself in the room for a long time. It's really intimate. I dig deep into a lot of things. With making dance, there are so many dancers—you share everything with somebody else. You transmit the movement to other bodies, and the movement changes. It's much more about communication. By the end, when you see it onstage, your own thinking has gone through so many people.
The dancers perform movement inspired by the paintings.
What were you exploring with this series of paintings?
Artistically, it's almost the same thing I do making dance. It's about space, timing, textures, quality. It's about structures and rhythms. It's about the flow of movement, how I can feel the energy of movement. The main difference is that with dance, it's human energy. But onstage or on the canvas, I also have to think about a balance of composition.
How does movement come into your painting process?
My canvases are really big—the largest are almost 30 feet. When you make a big stroke, you need a big movement to physically make it happen. It's easier for a dancer to control the flow of energy. That's a benefit I think I have as a dancer and choreographer.
Do you begin with any particular concept or vision?
Usually I have to go into a zone, a kind of mental state. Physically and mentally I have to be really comfortable, with no noise. I have to go to a spiritual world, a meditation world. I lock my studio and don't start immediately. Normally it takes a few hours at least to become so controlled, so sensitive, so aware of what I'm doing, but at the same time so free to do anything I want. That determines what the quality and texture and flow are going to be during the moment of painting.
What inspired the dance that accompanied these paintings?
It's super-different from my dance productions in the past. Usually when I do a piece, it's about something, but this is much more personal. I asked the dancers to go into a contemplative space—that zone I go into when I'm painting. It's like the painting has come alive, into three dimensions. Mentally, it's such a difficult piece for them to perform.
What qualities do you look for in a dancer?
I look for three things. Good technique—you have to have flexibility and understand your own body, and you have to be strong. And then artistically, you have to allow yourself to be open to new things. Lastly, working with a company, you have to be a generally nice, humble person. Of course, we all think about ourselves. But once you join a team, then it's not just you.
All photos by Moris Moreno
NEW YORK CITY
Endless repetition can drive audiences out of the theater, but a gifted choreographer can make watching the same phrase over and over with subtle changes fascinating. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is one of those rare ones. Four of her early works from the 1980s are coming to Lincoln Center Festival for a De Keersmaeker marathon that will make her fans deliriously happy: Fase, Elena’s Aria and Rosas danst Rosas—the work that Beyoncé borrowed from for her “Countdown” music video—and Bartók/Mikrokosmos. As a bonus, the Belgian choreographer herself will perform in the first three of these evening-length works. She dances with a poetic inner focus as though immersed in a rhythmic dream. July 8–16, John Jay College. lincolncenterfestival.org.
Above: De Keersmaeker’s Bartók/Mikrokosmos. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos, Courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.
A Change for Sascha
NEW YORK CITY
He is dashing on the Metropolitan Opera House stage, has written eloquently for Dance Magazine and was charismatic on the silver screen in Center Stage. On July 3, when beloved soloist Sascha Radetsky performs the role of Franz in Coppélia, it will be his last dance as a member of American Ballet Theatre. But the innately likeable dancer will keep busy: He’s currently in production as a main character in the TV show “Flesh and Bone,” to air on Starz in 2015. He and his wife, ABT soloist Stella Abrera, will also serve as répétiteurs for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust. abt.org.
At right: Radetsky in Fancy Free. Photo by Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT.
Straight From the Horse’s Mouth
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
When choreographers perform their own work, we’re getting an undiluted product—from mind to body to stage. That’s the reward of the On Their Bodies program, July 22–23, at American Dance Festival. Ronald K. Brown, Stephen Petronio, Doug Varone and Shen Wei, who have each carved out their own unique movement languages, will perform self-choreographed solos. (If only there was a woman in the mix, too!) americandancefestival.org.
At left: Ronald K. Brown. Photo by Kurt H. Leggard, Courtesy Evidence.
It’s a simple but compelling experiment: Commission a piece of music, have two choreographers create their own works to it and present them on the same bill. Audiences will be hearing double during the SKETCH 4 | Music Mirror program at ODC Theater, in which Amy Seiwert and Adam Hougland will offer separate interpretations of Kevin Keller’s score. Seiwert, known for her quirky, angular movement, and Hougland, for his innovative narratives, have been housed at ODC for five weeks to prepare. July 24–27. odcdance.org.
At right: Weston Krukow and Sarah Griffin of Amy Seiwert Imagery. Photo by David DeSilva, Courtesy Amy Seiwert Imagery.
See the Music
Mark Morris is a master of translating a musical score into lush dancing. This summer’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival will offer a full week of events that dive into his obsession with melody. Morris himself will lead music seminars, discussions and open company classes. And there will be plenty of performances, too: The Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble will have its own concert and will accompany MMDG in seven programs of newer Morris works—Festival Dance, A Wooden Tree, Crosswalk and Jenn and Spencer. July 21–27. jacobspillow.org.
At left: Domingo Estrada and Michelle Yard in Festival Dance. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy MMDG.
Rizqi Rachmat of Urban Artistry. Photo by Isaac Oboka, Courtesy Dance Place.
Urban Dance Sampler
Following its grand reopening in September, Dance Place continues to present weekly performances, now with expanded space and technology. Up next is the Urban Dance Theater Festival, curated by Junious “House” Brickhouse of local troupe Urban Artistry, with Ariston “B-Boy ReMind” Ripolya from California’s Style Elements Crew; Helsinki’s Sara “Lil Flex” Hirn; and Memphis jookin’ pioneers G-Force. Dec. 6–7. danceplace.org.
Two Mediums Meet
Fitting right in with the dance-in-museums craze is Shen Wei, a choreographer who actually is a painter, as well. His latest effort draws on both talents, co-presented by Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art + Design and MDC Live Arts. Shen Wei—In Black, White and Gray premieres during Art Basel—Miami Beach with five gallery performances by Shen Wei Dance Arts, Dec. 5–7. Shen Wei’s 11 paintings stay on view until Feb. 1. mdcmoad.org or mdclivearts.org.
Above: Shen Wei’s Undivided Divided. Photo Courtesy Rockaway PR.
A Choreographer’s Next Step
Jessica Lang has spent 15 years as a freelance choreographer, creating works for prominent companies like the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet. Yet just this year, she won a Bessie Award for Outstanding Emerging Choreographer. What qualified her to oddly fall under the elusive “emerging” umbrella? Her troupe Jessica Lang Dance is a green 3 years old. “Freelancing helped me figure out who I was as a creator,” says Lang. “When I started choreographing, I knew the last thing the world needed was another dance company that couldn’t support its dancers—they don’t deserve that. Now I have the foundation I need to have a company. And I’m able to investigate more and reach my fullest potential.”
This month, Lang premieres her first narrative full-length work set to Franz Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin, about a young woman who misleads the love of a journeyman. But The Wanderer will not be your typical swoony ballet. The scenery—trees, roots, brook and all—will be made entirely of 3,000 yards of white string, a stage installation that the dancers will manipulate from scene to scene. Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dec. 3–6. bam.org.
Above: Laura Mead and Kirk Henning in The Wanderer. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy BAM.
It seems as though
modern-day storyteller Alexei Ratmansky is out to redo all the ballets, one classic at a time. Next in line is Paquita at Bayerrisches Staatsballett. Dec. 13–Jan. 11 (select dates), Nationaltheater Munich. staatsoper.de.
Right: Ratmansky rehearsing with American Ballet Theatre. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy ABT.
You’ve probably seen or danced The Nutcracker too many times to count. On Land of Sweets overload? Here are four new or notable productions to shake up your holiday tradition.
Grand Rapids Ballet
Dec. 12–14, 19–21
The company debuts Val Caniparoli’s collaboration with Chris Van Allsburg, author and illustrator of The Polar Express and Jumanji, and Eugene Lee, who designed sets for Broadway musicals Sweeney Todd and Wicked.
Oklahoma City Ballet
Choreographed by artistic director Robert Mills, this production will feature scenes by Emmy Award–winning designer Gregory Crane.
LAST CHANCE PRODUCTIONS
American Ballet Theatre
Alexei Ratmansky’s version will have its fifth and final run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Beginning next year, ABT will bring it to Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, each winter.
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Nov. 28–Dec. 28
Kent Stowell’s production will take the stage for the last time. The company will dance Balanchine’s next season.
Above: Lindsi Dec in PNB’s Nutcracker. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
"Musée de la danse" at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, Courtesy MoMA
They were part of an exhibit titled “Musée de la danse: Three Collective Gestures," a collaboration with the French choreographer Boris Charmatz presented by MoMA's Department of Media and Performance Art. The program, which was promoted as “re-imagining the function of dance and its relationship with the body, society and the institution," is an example of a growing trend of postmodern dancers and dance companies performing site-specific works in museums. In recent years, MoMA has also showcased the work of Yvonne Rainer, Ralph Lemon and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, positioning these “outsider" artists firmly within the establishment. It's a move that's given a sense of weight and permanence to a traditionally ephemeral art form.
Of course, the idea of live dancing in museums isn't entirely new. Steve Paxton's 1972 performance series at New York City's John Weber Gallery, Trisha Brown's 1974 residency at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and other “happenings" at that time explored the relationship between movement and public spaces for art.
But over the past several years, these presentations have moved from the margins of the art world to inside leading cultural institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London. The choreographer Liz Santoro even won a 2013 Bessie Award for her site-specific work Watch It at New York City's Museum of Arts and Design. The facts that MoMA created a department for producing performances in 2008 and the Whitney Museum of American Art hired a full-time performance curator in 2012 suggest that dance today is seen as a core component of programming, not an occasional novelty. These museums are aware of the current popularity of performance art, and have invested in helping to direct its transition into the mainstream.
Above: Shen Wei Dance Arts at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
“What happened with photography—it was not originally considered fine art—is happening now with dance," says Muriel Maffre, executive director of San Francisco's Museum of Performance + Design and a former principal with the San Francisco Ballet. “It's being recognized by a bigger group of people and finding a place next to great paintings." Ana Janevski, a curator of the “Musée de la danse" exhibit at MoMA who describes dancers as “living archives," agrees. “Dance is not only about movement, but about space and writing and thinking," she says. “What we've tried to show is how dance is not just a footnote or sporadic event but an art form contained in itself."
This recognition has helped to elevate dance, which is often perceived as less serious than fine art, says Diane Madden, associate artistic director of the Trisha Brown Dance Company, who has set the choreographer's works at MoMA, the Tate Modern, Berlin's Hamburger Bahnhof, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Getty and Hammer Museums in Los Angeles. “People go to a dance performance expecting to be entertained, but people go to an art museum expecting to put thought and time into what they're seeing," she says. “It does give it a little more validity to associate ourselves with these more accepted art forms."
It also provides a profoundly different way to experience dance. Unlike a traditional theater, where the audience is fixed and their attention is focused on a proscenium stage, site-specific works in museums often allow viewers to move throughout the performers, shifting their proximity and perspective. As a result, these pieces are more intimate and interactive. “It shows the humanity of the dancers," says Madden, who recalls how during a performance of Roof Piece Re-Layed at MoMA in 2011, a group of middle-aged women started doing the steps along with them. The dance, which is about the transmission of movement, really resonated “in a space where the audience can be with them instead of looking upon them."
For Shen Wei, whose company has performed everywhere from the Metropolitan Museum to the North Carolina Museum of Art to the Collezione Maramotti in Italy, this reflects a larger mission. “When we perform onstage, it's showing," he says. “But more current dance works are not about showing something. They're about discovery. And those things fit well in these kinds of surroundings."
Maffre believes this immersive quality appeals to dance and non-dance audiences alike. “More than ever people are looking for experiences," she says. “In the past museums were considered temples of art, but museums are becoming more of a place of exchange and encounters." As Evan Copeland, a member of Shen Wei Dance Arts, puts it: “Museums are sacred ground—don't touch—whereas we're like, 'Please touch, be part of this, contribute.' We're making the space accessible."
Site-specific works can also make dance more accessible, engaging audiences who might never set foot in an opera house. But they require certain sacrifices of the artists. Because these spaces weren't designed for dance (awkward layouts, no sprung floors), steps have to be modified and rehearsals are limited. And dancers used to performing in theaters have to get used to people staring them in the face.
“There's not that distance of the stage, so you're very vulnerable," says Copeland of works like Undivided Divided, where the practically naked performers dance and roll around in paint on 7x7-foot squares while the audience wanders among them. But he ultimately enjoys the sense of community this generates with the viewers, just as Shen finds the location constraints stimulating. “It makes you create something you wouldn't think of before you saw the space," he says.
And since many cities lack affordable performance venues, alternative spaces like galleries provide more opportunities for dance artists to present their work. But as with all trends, there's the chance that dance in museums will become too ubiquitous. “The challenge is how to continue to reinvent and not enter into certain patterns," Janevski says. “If you're really interested in breaking down the fourth wall and trying to push how an audience views art, that's awesome," adds Copeland. “But if you're just using the space to dance around, personally I don't find that interesting."
Shen stresses that just like dance in a theater, the quality of site-specific works varies. But he believes the potential for connecting with audiences—both new and old—and making dance come alive outweighs any risk of this becoming a gimmick.
Madden agrees, citing the reactions she's seen as proof of the powerful impact of these pieces. “Inevitably, there's some joyful surprised discovery that happens among the audience, and I just love that. It tells me we're on the right track."
Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) was the ballet that shook the world. One hundred years ago, the chic crowd in Paris booed or cheered, argued loudly, and even came to blows. Nijinsky stood on a chair and yelled out the counts to keep the Ballets Russes dancers going, while Diaghilev commanded the audience, “Let them finish the performance!" According to legend, the riot continued out in the street.
Was it Stravinsky's jagged, haunting, crashing music that riled them? Or was it Nijinsky's primitivism: the turned-in feet and huddled circles oblivious to the outside world? Or maybe it was the idea of the sacrifice where the Chosen One brutally “dances" herself to death?
Accounts differ, and we'll never know for sure. What we do know is that Stravinsky's earth-cracking Rite of Spring has become the mountain that many choreographers feel challenged to climb—more than 30 by our count. We've chosen 18 of them for this photo essay to mark the centenary of the original Sacre du Printemps at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on May 29, 1913.
Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Vaslav Nijinsky's original Sacre du Printemps (1913).
Photo from the Dance Magazine Archives.
“As the ballet looked back to the dawn of human life, so…it also looked into the future: to a war that unleashed the accumulated evil in men's souls and to a society ruled by the machine. In this sense, Sacre was a harbinger of modernity: of its assembly lines and masses, its war machines and cities of slain innocents. Stripped of their costumes, Nijinsky's masses were both the agents and victims of twentieth-century barbarism." —Lynn Garafola in Diaghilev's Ballets Russes
Left: Martha Graham as the Chosen One in Leonide Massine's Sacre du Printemps (1920) in 1930. Photo from unknown source; Right: Wendy Whelan, as guest artist with Louisville Ballet in Adam Hougland's Rite of Spring (2009). Photo by Dave Howard, Courtesy Louisville Ballet.
Heddy Maalem's Toulouse-based company, with dancers from all over Africa, in his Le Sacre du Printemps (2004) in 2008. Photo by Ben Rudick, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow.
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Pina Bausch's Frühlingsopfer (Rite of Spring) (1975). Photo still from the film PINA (2012).
Hamburg Ballet in John Neumeier's Le Sacre (1972). Photo © F. Peyer, DM Archives.
Ballet Preljocaj in Angelin Preljocaj's The Rite of Spring (2001).
Photo by Regine Will, Courtesy BAM.
Shen Wei Dance Arts in Shen Wei's Rite of Spring (2003). Photo by Bruce R. Feely, DM Archives.
Left: Paul White in Meryl Tankard's The Oracle (2009). Photo by Regis Lansac, Courtesy Skirball; Right: Carlos Acosta in Houston Ballet's 1997 production of Glen Tetley's Sacre du Printemps (1974), created for Munich Ballet. Photo by Drew Donovan, DM Archives.
Nashville Ballet in a 2012 performance of Salvatore Aiello's Rite of Spring (1995).
Photo by Marianne Leach, Courtesy NB.
Reconstruction of Vaslav Nijinsky's original Sacre du Printemps (1913) by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer, 1987, for Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, DM Archives.
“As I envisaged the primitiveness of the tribal rites, where the Chosen Maiden must die to save the earth, I felt that my body must draw into itself, must absorb the fury of the hurricane. Strong, brusque, spontaneous movements seemed to fight the elements as the Chosen Maiden protected the earth against the menacing heavens. The Chosen Maiden danced as if possessed, as she must until her frenzied dance in the primitive sacrificial ritual kills her." —Bronislava Nijinska, the sister of the choreographer and originator of the role, Early Memoirs
English National Ballet in a 2012 performance of Kenneth MacMillan's Rite of Sping (1962). Photo by Arnaud Stephenson, Courtesy ENB.
Dutch National Ballet in Van Manen's Sacre du Printemps (1974).
Photo © Jorge Fatauros, DM Archives.
Left: Dominique Porte in Marie Chouinard's Le Sacre du Printemps (1993). Photo by Chouinard, Courtesy Chouinard; Right: Molissa Fenley in her own State of Darkness (1988).
Photo by Jack Mitchell.
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in a 2008 performance of Stijn Celis' Rite (2005), originally for Bern Ballet. Photo by Paul B. Goode, Courtesy Cedar Lake.
Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo's Sacre du Printemps (2009). (Yes, those are real flames.)
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy BB.