Saturday, January 02, 2010

(D) Re- Parts I, II and III (da:ns Festival 2009)

Re- Parts I, II and III
Shen Wei Dance Arts
da:ns Festival 2009
Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay
31 October 2009

By Choy Su-Ling
Photographs: Courtesy of Esplanade Ltd Co.

It is exciting times for performing arts in Southeast Asia when such an acclaimed name as Shen Wei premiers. Re- Parts I, II and III, a festival highlight, was created in response to Shen Wei’s journeys in Tibet, Cambodia, and China between 2005 and 2008.

China-born and New York-based Shen Wei studied Chinese Opera from the age of nine. In 1991, he became a founding member of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, the first modern dance company in China. In 1995, he moved to New York to study, and later (2000) he formed Shen Wei Dance Arts (SWDA). The choreographer- director-dancer-painter-designer is widely recognised for his defining vision of an intercultural, interdisciplinary, and original mode of movement-based performance. And, he has received too numerous recognitions, awards and commissions (the latest being the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics) to mention.

On the large Esplanade proscenium, Shen already sketched a larger-than-life Tibetan mandala as audiences began to trickle in for Part I. The geometric shape becomes more defined as dancers, some sitting and some kneeling, and those walking about slowly, continuously sprinkled white confetti on the floor. This tedious construction was soon undone by the very same creators in hushed gliding and sweeping movements to the rhythm of their own breathing; and in the process, raising a storm of “snow”. The travelling across the “snow” has a floating quality, not unlike those in traditional Chinese dance. When the whole backdrop became a video wall of clouds, the stage was instantly “elevated” and the dancers seemed to be dancing on snow-capped mountains. Set to music of exiled Tibetan nun, Ani Choying Drolma, the dancers immerses in a meditative mood. As if dancing the breathing technique of qigong, the dance is very much like quiet breathing. The secret to the fluidity lies not only in the graceful restrain, but most critically, in finding the right and precise moment of release; the relief, the exhale. The second soloist in this piece was exceptional in doing so. While some made best efforts, a few dancers were too stiff for this temperament. These actions of weightless dropping and rising, and turning at mid-height, were no doubt mesmerizing; but it went on and on, leaving a conclusion wanting.

In contrast, Part III chugs along like a train charging across industrial and urban landscapes. Everything in this piece projects a progressive China; almost like watching a propaganda video for aggressive growth. Those who do not keep up or oppose to this development are “tossed about” within an impenetrable forward-moving phalanx formed by dancers, dressed in green, and marching militaristic-style, advancing resolutely with building momentum towards gains of economic power. But then, Shen sneaks in an element of caution, warning of the dangers of moving ahead too fast. Those who buy the propaganda soon find themselves like mechanical robots as depicted by the stiff marionette-like and staccato movements to the artificial tinkling sounds of music box music and the tick tock of Fayolism. In the partnering sections, we see pairs leaning against each other as they pushed themselves upwards like high-rise buildings. It’s a fragile dependency and the dancers soon fall like crumbling buildings. To reflect the darker side of progress, dancers change into black costumes and the silhouette skyscrapers in the background stretches gradually into indistinguishable vertical charcoal strokes. Shen’s warning is not headed. In the end, dancers stood in a file to cartwheel two dancers flipping them like wheels of a brakeless train.

Aesthetically, Part II is sculpturesque, visually showing Shen’s awe of Angkor Wat’s ancient splendour and timelessness. Light-footed dancers dressed in royal blue and purple flit like little birds against the backdrop of a blown-up image of the temple surrounded by thick foliage. They travel horizontally across the stage in a perpetual link, each dancer always using some part of their body to “catch” one another; all this to the peaceful soundscape of birds chirping and the distinctive rings of the nattuvanar’s cymbals, a reference to Hinduism. As they did so, a belt of traditional motif and temple engravings run across the backdrop. The first half of this piece has an endearing crispness in the well-coordinated group work, which is interspersed with movements that has a melting quality. On the other hand, the concluding scene was simply a vision to behold. Although this part of the world is less comfortable with nudity, there was nothing lewd about Shen’s human sculptures. He laid out a sensual display of dancers with painted bodies luxuriously outstretched and with their heads dropped way back in hiding. The dancers basked under the spotlights in a pose that reminds of the thick tree roots that protrude proudly on the temple grounds.

Re- Parts I, II and III was successful in demonstrating Shen Wei’s artistic originality and each “part” fully justifies his talent for creating unique movement language. However, as a whole, the piece fails to deliver the “re-“, which was supposed to “…invoke concepts of return, reconsideration and renewal.” With this point sorely missing, I left the theatre feeling a tad disappointed. But then again, it could just be my inflated expectations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pretty accurate last sentence....However, as a whole, the piece fails to deliver the “re-“, which was supposed to “…invoke concepts of return, reconsideration and renewal.” With this point sorely missing, I left the theatre feeling a tad disappointed.