This week in Hyperallergic I reviewed Shen Wei’s new performance at the Park Avenue Armory.
You can read the full review here: An Offering of Three Shen Wei Dance Pieces at the Park Avenue Armory
I love modern dance–the control, the rhythms, the expressiveness of gesture and full-body kinetic awareness of space. Watching another human grapple with profundity using only their bodies is also why I love baseball. (If you missed it, I just used dance as a metaphor for sports). I’ve watched over 250 modern dance pieces, I’m sure, thanks to Dawn Poirier and the many friends I’ve had over the years. I’ve seen every part of the process, from the inkling to the body slouched post-execution (execution of the dance, that is). There are a few choreographers, in my mind, that which each piece they create, scrape at the ineffable. Meaning when their dancers begin to move, you are immediately pulled into a new place, and that new place is related to the place you were, to the life that was yours, but it not that old place where you were, separated now by this membrane of dance. It is a place closer to the reality of the universe. One step closer, perhaps, and because of this strange remove, a bit alien. And when the dancing stops, and you are thrust back into your own world, it is like a child being born from the womb. And it is cold and weird and the lights come on everywhere around you and you must go out again and live in a place you barely understand.
Shen Wei is a choreographer whose work can share that alien-but-more-real place with his audience. Most people are aware of the work he did choreographing the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which was gorgeous and won him world fame and accolades. Being a New Yorker, I’ve had the opportunity to see a new piece by him every three years or so. His work is mysterious in a Borgesian sense, in the way I talked about above; his dancers are characters, almost, enlightened or befuddled by the dance they perform effortlessly (he uses only the best dancers); and his range of body movement vocabulary is extensive. Shen Wei is a true master.
So I was disappointed to catch his latest piece performed at the Park Avenue Armory, titled Undivided Divided, and find it lacking in the essential mystery of a good Shen Wei piece (which it did possess, but only in the most minor ways, like Shen-lite). It was filled with energy–energetic bodies in various states of arrest coming alive before you–which kept you interested, and there was the interesting addition of allowing the audience to move through the space, but even with this added, along with some pretty interesting props, the piece failed to elevate itself into that alternate reality a good book reader or movie goer or dance enthusiast begins to miss in the final moments of the work, when you know it’s about to be over, and you begin growing nostalgic for the world disintegrating about you. It lacked the authority and persuasiveness of a Shen Wei piece, which sucks, having a bar set so high by the Olympics and high artistic honors like the Guggenheim and Genius Grant, and wanting to make a different kind of piece perhaps and having it judged by your past work. But it wasn’t a different kind of piece, it was just a flatter version of the multi-dimensional world Shen Wei usually creates. Was it fun to watch? Yeah, it was fun. Should it have lasted for half an hour? Maybe if it was better. I could imagine watching such a piece for an hour, watching the movement of the dancers grow, watch them interact naked in the paint, the force of life in them, the promise of demise. Sure. But it wasn’t that piece.
Will I go and see the next Shen Wei production? Absolutely. Underdeveloped Shen Wei is still better than most dance performances. The costumes are usually rad, the dancers are stellar performers, and the mind of the choreographer is always present. Even in this show, the piece Folding blew me away. Anyhow, check out the review and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear back from anyone who caught the show to see what they think.