Shen Wei is a New York based modern dance choreographer who came to the form after a childhood spent as an apprentice at the Hunan State Xian Opera Company and, later, serious self-education in Western painting and sculpture. This immersion into other art forms serves the work well. He manages to create a “Rite Of Spring” (2003) which is almost totally devoid of narrative, free from Russian-pagan-ritualistic- ominousness, and in fact, looks nothing like any other version around. The choice of the four-hand piano version or the score (arranged by Fazil Say) kicks out almost all the bombast out of Stravinsky’s score, leaving something rhythmically challenging, with a surprising amount of lyricism and a shading of lightness. Death seems to be far, far away from this “Rite”. The only ritual, in this piece for a full contingent of 13 dancers, may be found in the forming of lines, in soft, Geisha-style walking patterns, and the mannequin-like use of the arms. Things get wilder, later, and there is a lot of flinging-style solos that look very modern-dancey, Graham floorwork crossed with break-dancing, but decorum is never lost here. It’s about the music.
“Near the Terrace, Part I” was inspired, according to program notes, by the work of Belgian surrealist painter Paul Delvaux. The rich lighting by David Ferri, and cascading sweet/dark music by Arvo Pärt seem to perfectly combine into a visual symbiosis of slowly changing imagery. Topless women in teased-out hair wear white-powdered bodies and long, ragged skirts, and the men in the piece appear to help these ghostly figures to fly. A logical ending is magical anyway, as the amazing set of stairs upon which the piece has taken place, serve as a slo-mo exit, with bodies and heads disappearing gradually down the back of the stairs, off into the horizon. But then, a new, starker light comes up and the dance is not over—like monsters slithering out a lagoon, the entire group returns on their backs, scudding somewhat ungracefully back down towards the dance floor. Not since the Buttoh-company Sankai Juku visited San Francisco, has a dance work this minimalistic (and slow) been able to create such a powerful imagistic reality. Shen Wei has a masterful eye, a way of doing things that is powerfully original.