The week before the American Dance Festival opened I had a dream that Shen Wei Dance Arts performed inside a fish tank. I thought it was a strange and funny dream until from the audience at the season opening performance I was reminded of their fluid movement. The dancers move as easily and dreamily as fish through water. What I would say about this two hour drink of art is what I would say about Shen Wei’s body of work.

The subtle work of artistic director and choreographer Shen Wei is less like a show than a study in aesthetics.* And his eye for beauty misses no detail. The dancers are perfect strong and supple mediums, often, and in this case, in shades of black, white and gray, that blend with the lights and backdrop as if a two dimensional painting is coming to life. Shen Wei has been known to turn turn an art gallery into a theater, but he also turns a theater into an art gallery. Untitled No. 12-2 is an ADF commissioned work featuring the paintings from Shen Wei’s Black, White, and Gray series. The words from ADF’s program note about the paintings also describe what Shen brings to life on stage: “… abstract, shapes and forms suggestive of a sublime landscape seem to appear from the thick layering of oil and acrylic on canvas.”
Shen Wei Dane Arts Untitled no 12 -2 at the American Dance Festival, photo by Grant Halverson
Shen Wei Dane Arts Untitled no 12 -2 at the American Dance Festival, photo by Grant Halverson

The visual depth of a moving painting is always present in Shen Wei’s work. His ADF commissioned world premiere in 2000, Near the Terrace was inspired by paintings of Paul Delvaux and in his 2011 creation Undivided Divided dancers painted with their bodies. But that smooth visual aesthetic of lines that appear like a brush stroke is also present in work not directly associated with painting, like in the 2013 ADF commissioned work, Collective Measures.

Shen Wei Dance Arts in Near the Terrace at the American Dance Festival in 2013, photo by Denise Cerniglia
Shen Wei Dance Arts in Near the Terrace at the American Dance Festival in 2013, photo by Denise Cerniglia
Shen Wei Dance Arts in Collective Measures at the American Dance Festival in 2013, photo by Denise Cerniglia
Shen Wei Dance Arts in Collective Measures at the American Dance Festival in 2013, photo by Denise Cerniglia

The second half of the program was another thoughtful invitation to a study in aesthetics, Map (2005). This “exploration of movement concepts” developed by Shen Wei appears to be born as it’s performed. Dancers roll, jump, flow and swoop. The movement appears to have been conceived within the mover, yet they dance in perfectly timed unison. This creates a sense of warmth and connectedness between the dancers that is compelling as an audience member.

 

I would be happy to remain in the dreamy beautiful world created by Shen Wei.

*as opposed to a work created to entertain audiences, we are invited to witness exploration and expression.