Shen Wei Dance Arts (SWDA) at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, March 31, 2009

by Janet Eigner

Appearing like a drift of extraordinarily well-disciplined winter leaves lifting and blown by a spring zephyr, the 15-member, Eastern-inspired Shen Wei Dance Arts performed “Rite of Spring” from two perspectives, first, more Western, to Stravinsky’s composition, then, more Eastern, in the post-intermission version. Of course, fitting with the yin-yang Asian mood, as the dancers silently and slowly gathered their dignity on the Lensic’s darkened stage, one audience youngster screamed an oppositional acapella.

The first perspective, writes Artistic Director, Shen Wei, in the program notes, matches “…the quality found in the music” to “several body systems and movement ideas” that he found in Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” as played by Fazil Say’s four-hand piano version. The dance, abstract, devoid of the traditional story line, uses “the melodic and rhythmic qualities of the music” that inspire this muscular, graceful and abstract creation.

East meets West as the company follows Stravinsky’s taped “Rite”: the piano melody provides waves of intimacy, exuberance, crashing power–many moods–yet there’s the sense of silence and rest built in with pauses and breath, Shen Wei’s meditative aesthetic.

The artists work with a precision and simultaneous movement that contrasts with their fluid, nearly boneless limbs that quietly fling and swirl. A cluster of dancers, for instance, tilts a bit backwards, arms tight to their sides, heads held rigidly, and run swiftly backwards with small, skittering, exacting steps until they halt on a dime. Modest shirts and slacks of neutral gray added to the quiet mood.

The second perspective, “RE-(Part 1)”, contains Shen Wei’s abstract and exuberant impressions of the Tibetan, as he writes, of “…land, the people, the religion and the culture.” Traditional Tibetan chants accompany this petal-strewn mandala of a creation. Both works evidence a love of spring’s generative body and her continual cycles of rebirth.

RE-(Part 1) again began in silence, broken briefly, probably by the same child, screaming “I AM being quiet!” (Coyote moves in mysterious ways!) Dancers moved to the deep sounds of Tibetan trumpets and gongs, along with a swishing sound made by the dancers’ feet churning through a carpet-mandala’s large paper confettis in red, white, blue and gold drifts. The dancers accumulated these spheres on their clothing as they rolled and rose, dripping the rounds. The choreography became a bit repetitious toward the end of this part, in a way that pulled at the definition of an art work and began to give a feeling of a yoga class.

SWDA’s movement goes down like a delicious fruit smoothie, though it might seem hard to imagine how the choreography produces such a creamy blend: they combine a tai chi-like martial art form with modern dance’s low center of gravity, a modified form of East Indian torso contortion, and even break dancing’s low-to-the-ground-propeller-like leg swings and folds. One tall, stately androgynous woman stood out among the dancers, all of whom twisted their extended arms and shoulders on shifting diagonals that look both silky and muscular.

Keeping with their abstract aesthetic throughout, the dancers, like the weather, embody impersonal, universal forces, expressing with their whole bodies the moods that Stravinsky’s music suggests, unlike humans who make eye contact, interact and register a range of emotions in their faces.

The Olympic level of discipline and technical skill of these dancers never abates. Most of the company shone in solos embedded within ensembles. Stillness is a partner in SWDA’s choreography: dancers shift among groupings and soloists in quietly masterful designs.

One way a company warms your heart is that it whispers or shouts something that inspires awe or relaxes or tickles or riles you up. Another way is that they inspire gratitude–that so large a company presents tableaus with a choreographic organization that makes watching a joy rather than a dizzying vortex of too many designs to register and absorb.
While Shen Wei dancers took their bows, receiving enthusiastic applause, on one side of this reviewer, a couple thought the choreography got boring and resembled an old, repetitious contact improvisation style. On the other side, a woman sat, still breathless with excitement, watching and praising the company–the predictable yin-yang of aesthetic taste.  Bouquets to the presenter, Santa Fe Concert Association.

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