The Arts, Etc.


Dance Performances Worth Noting


"One of the premier international dance companies, Shen Wei Dance Arts, has won world wide acclaim for its interdisciplinary cross-cultural performances, which have been describeved as 'breathtaking, powerful, and riveting' (The Boston Globe).  Celebrated for its 'gorgeous visual imagery" (The London Times)', the company's dances reflect the compositional rigor of Shen Wei, the visual artist -- incorporating vivid colors, striking design, and imaginative use of space into theatrical, kinetic paintings."


At MassMoCA, North Adams

Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 3 p.m.

"The Rite of Spring" (Score: Le Sacre du Printemps by Igor Stravinsky) and "Collective Measures"

(Music: Crossing Now by Illusion of 'safety; Traveler Pierced By Arrows; Feller by Feller

by Jerry F. Original Score by David Burke.


"Listening to the score, I identified several body systems and created a movement vocabulary that matched the quality found in the music as I heard it. The piece in its final form is a set structure within which there is a balance between movement exactitude and movement intuition. As in unstaged life, alongside that which is definite, there will always exist the coincidental,

the uncontrollable, the chance happening."


Reviewed by Donna Bailey-Thompson


I am not a dance critic. I am a dance appreciater. I have witnessed two Shen WeI performances, leaning forward as if the intensity of my  curiosity would, ipso facto, dislodge every thing I wanted to know. The Rite of Spring, it turns out, was not as enigmatic as I over-thought it. Everything I witnessed, especially the exotic, non-traditional choreography knocked my senses askew.

If The Rite of Spring conjures up dancers in gauzie gowns festooned with garlands of delicate flowers woven through curly tresses, you’re on the wrong page. The Rite of Spring does not promote pretty cliches. Positions challenge bodies who are wired to move to instead do seemingly nothing. The sold out audience didn’t move either.

Picture a stage about the size of a tennis court. At the middle end of the court, a figure steps out of darkness -- a slip of a girl who stands stock still for uncounted minutes – maybe two, three. When she finally moves, she darts, skimming the floor, her arms never leaving her side. She stops opposite where she had stood. She stands motionless for uncounted minutes. Another dancer, a young man, takes his position on the court opposite the girl. They stand motionless and in silence. The audience sits on bleachers made comfortable with padded cushions.

Gradually, ever so meticulously, one by one, 19 dancers arrive, scurrying like waterbugs, every one with their arms “glued” to their sides. The dancers’ movements multiply, their patterns become more open, more varied, but no easier to understand. No two dancers make the same movements at the same time in the same space. Imagine a box of miniature dancers. Someone shakes the box before opening it, letting the little dancers fly and swing with abandonment. Within seconds, other groups whirl in from different directions. Some double back. Some execute a soft belly landing accentuated by a swoop. They rise and fall independently. They isolate themselves.

I am both perplexed and fascinated. This is not Swan Lake. The activity could be part of a game board made up by different opponents with differing agenda. They could all be lost.

The choreography requires perfect timing. Keeping their arms glued to their sides, using short, quick foot-scuffling moves, the dancers make, seemingly, independent choices of new stationary positions to occupy. Sometimes a move ends with a curly-Q or it changes its destination to a point halfway across the stage. All the moves seem spontaneous but surely they have been plotted with an exactitude that implies the dancers could experience safe passage through a Star Wars attack, 

As the dance continued, the tempo picked up. The dancers began interacting with one another, at first tentively. Their moves were livelier; they were obedient to an invisible metronome. A dancer might race to a new position, spin, sprawl and within half a minute, do a quirky move on the floor before suddenly becoming inert. All nineteen dancers performed independently of one another–repeatedly. For a while, I obsessed about the existence of a traffic cop. How could the dancers remember all their cues? How could the dancers remember where they were supposed to be and for how long? Surely they must be counting. What a complicated performance to understand! What could the early rehearsals have been like?

I was riveted. Decades ago, innovative dance leaders, the avant garde of their days, broke new ground. How exciting to witness today’s challenging collection of Shen Wei’s exotic positions and moves. In spite of not understanding the raison d‘etre of the multifaceted dance, I liked it. The geometrics fascinated. Maybe if I had the opportunity to observe several performances of The Rite of Spring, I could claim, “I get it.”


About The Work

"Collective Measures" is Shen Wei's striking exploration of isolation amidst physical proximity. The dance probes our individual navigations in and out of sync with a crowded world.  In this work, Shen Wei makes use of simultaneous layering and mirroring of dancer and projected image, evoking questions of the concrete and the ephemeral, the transitory and the permanent."

Compared to The Rite of Spring,  the sophisticated choreography of Collective Measures was easier to follow (but not as much fun). My thoughts kept drifting back to the highly stylized ‘Spring.’ I still had too much to process. However, the Collective Measures dancers were fully developed human beings coping with multiple issues. The one or two they resolved reminded me of the victorious Red Sox pile on.

And then, on Collective Measures' time, The Rite of Spring seized the initiative and turned me into myself: I could stop speculating about the meanings behind every move and pose and instead let thoughts give my thoughts permission to be themselves. Ergo, The Rite of Spring exposes the feelings of people cooped up during a long winter responding to the advent of Spring and the possibilities it represents.




stop/time dance theater at the Playhouse on Park

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