Shen Wei Dance Arts Comes to Swarthmore

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Friday evening, Shen Wei Dance Arts, a dance ensemble which was commissioned to contribute to the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, performed in LPAC. Their two-part performance, “Rite of Spring” and “RE- (Part I)” illustrated the groups blending of performance traditions and technical feats. The performance was sponsored by the William J. Cooper Foundation.

“Rite of Spring,” which occupied the first half of the program was set to a piano four hand arrangement of Stravinsky’s work by the same name. As Artistic Director Shen Wei’s program notes observe, the performance is inspired by the music but not bound to the narrative.

Abstraction trumps all other concerns as the performers seem to teeter between a fluid, natural approach that emphasizes the curvature of the body to sharper, controlled movements that feel nearly mechanical. The viewer is left with the sensation of something fleeting and recognizable at many points in the performance, as though some motion or arrangement is the echo of another, very natural phenomenon, executed to achieve a delicate spatial balance of performers and motion.

“RE- (Part I)” was inspired by Shen Wei’s experiences in Tibet and set to Tibetan Chant. The piece was a beautiful, delicate meditation of four dancers, moving across a stage where thousands of pieces of colored paper had been arranged in the style of a sand painting. As the performance progressed, colors bled and swirled into one another, paper gathered to the dancers and drifted like snow or dust across the stage, tracing the memory of movement moments after the dancer had passed through the space.

A recipient of the MacArthur “Genius,” United States Artists Fellowship, and Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Shen Wei is also a painter, designer, and photographer whose talents assuredly inform one another. After the production, his book of photography, “Tibet” was being sold, the proceeds of which are being sent to the Pandedajie School and Dickey Orphanage in Lhasa.

The Phoenix