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Shen Wei Dance Arts strives to be more than a dance company. Shen Wei himself is not only a dancer and choreographer, but a painter and designer, and a student of Chinese opera. He takes a comprehensive approach to the creation of staged art, considering not only the movement and the music, but their context. Or, in the case of his new work, Connect Transfer, he goes beyond the consideration of context to its creation during the dance itself.
As seen in Reynolds Theater on July 6, the piece seemed a little simplistic, even obvious, although it certainly had its thrilling moments, and was danced to a series of very interesting pieces of music - Kevin Volans' String Quartet No. 6, Iannis Xenakis' Evryali, and several short works by György Ligeti, including numbers 1 and 3 of Mouvements and the slow second section of the Sonatina.
Pliant dancers appear on the raw canvas-covered stage before (long before) the music begins. At first singly, then in pairs, they go through various angular mark-making postures, making shapes like letters against the pale canvas. The lighting has a bleak quality, and the dancers' costumes are variations on ugly, all gray and black. I found that the only dancer holding my attention was a red-haired woman - the only spot of color.
Once the music finally begins, the dancers move in great arcs, making drawn lines of themselves. There's a great deal of action on the floor. The dancers writhe and flow, looping and circling in movements as liquid as ink. Then a dancer comes on with a marker and goes through the movements literally making a continuous mark on the canvas. Her marker never leaves the surface, a remarkable feat as she eels over the canvas. The other dancers roll and wiggle and glide like figure skaters - but they, too, all keep something in contact with the canvas at all times. There are no leaps. This is the best section of the dance, and the only one that bears up under comparison with last year's Cursive by the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan.
Shen Wei makes a cameo appearance, dancing with his usual mesmerizing grace and talent, but his interlude almost seemed to come from a different dance. Mystifyingly, he later repeats this beautiful but ill-fitting sequence precisely.
In the final section, we do get some jumps and fast turns, before it's everybody back on the floor. This time most of the dancers are loaded with paints - red, blue, green - and cover the surface of the canvas with marks and smears, painting with their bodies. The result was hardly salutary, visually.
Essentially, Connect Transfer is about dance as the art of painting with bodies in space, a powerful concept that Wei makes literal - and in this literality, less magical. The work is also about the ways energy is transferred through contact. The whole thing struck me, on reflection, as being the kind of studio work an artist would do as conceptual and structural preparation for a major piece - and not a major piece in and of itself.