The American Dance Festival is winding up its 2010 season with a birthday party for one of its many “children:” Shen Wei, now a world-renowned choreographer and dancer, formed his troupe at ADF ten years ago. ADF has consistently encouraged and supported Shen Wei Dance Arts during its first ten exploratory years, frequently premiering its new work. Thursday night’s premiere of a new ADF commission was a solo danced by Shen Wei. It was centered between work made in 2000 and 2005.
Shen Wei is an intellectual artist, and an aesthete. His solo mesmerizes with the liquid beauty of his dancing, even while mystifying with its relationship to strange sounds being amplified from a table downstage, where a woman sits and reads an even more mystifying phrase before each change of sound. A blue bottle sits on the desk. Near the end, the woman’s phrase is simply the word “liquid.” She leaves. Shen Wei, dressed in loose white, has woven his sinuous body in lines and waves through the space without stopping since his appearance. The air where he has moved seems dense, full of secrets, as memory resupplies the evanescent tracery of motion. When he stops, and walks to the table, picks up the blue bottle and drinks, it is, just for an instant, as if he has stepped away from a kinetic sculpture of himself. While he refreshes from his labors, it vanishes.
Leading off the program was Map, from 2005. This had previously been performed here in Reynolds, which has a smaller stage and is much more intimate than the Durham Performing Arts Center. Using all the space on the larger stage makes the flow and interchange between groups and individuals from one side of the stage to the other much less hair-raising than at Reynolds, where they passed within a breath of each other in their relentless gliding and twisting. They never touch, nor do they seem to look at one another. The music is by Steve Reich, from The Desert Music, and the dancers are a match for its vigorous rhythm. The company looks very strong.
To close, we go back to 2000, with Folding, one of the first pieces that brought Shen Wei to local attention. It is still a gorgeous, painterly piece, and it’s fascinating to see how surprising and fresh it remains, in the context of Shen Wei’s even more formalized and polished later work. It is thrilling to see it again.
This program repeats the 23rd; on the 24th Rite of Spring substitutes for Map. See our calendar for details. The American Dance Festival will repeat in Durham in 2011.