Choreographer Mark Dendy provided the stylish site work preceding Shen Wei Dance Arts performance at the Durham Performance Arts Center this weekend. Dendy’s troupe was everywhere- partnering the trees outside, doing Cirque acrobatics on railings, bouncing on the gallery stairs, and dance cruising in the lavs. The urbane fun was in perfect contrast to Shen Wei’s challenging introspective dance journal ‘Re.’
The full company work in three parts, is based on the choreographer’s impressions revisiting sites in Cambodia and his native China. Chronicles of people, places and notably the changing sociopolitical landscape.
Part 1 is an ethereal movement mediation for 8 dancers against a video backdrop of clouds and scored to chants. It is lulling with slow cadence. Wei sites bodies moving with oxygen deficiency and a lowered center of gravity of the Tibetan Steppe. At one point a woman body moves like the air is being sucked out of her. As the dancers moved in more formation and picked up the pace, paper shards swirl around them from disturbing the Mandala maze, an effect that creates gorgeously momentary stage pictures. As danced, some of the passages seemed rote, but perhaps that was the desired transcendent goal.
Part 3 of the piece was a direct reference to different perceptions cultural turmoil, it is playful, even with visual references to Wei trying to be a contemporary choreographer under China‘s official gaze. Dancers are locked into odd angle wrestling holds. Unison line is subverted by a dancer who tries to break out of the regimented formations, which eventually spreads more individual expression. Wei’s unique technique is especially evident in the more violent passages that highlight dancers’ torso fluidity and cohesive group pulse.
Part 2 has the troupe in multicolored unitards under an ornate Chinese scroll, and they seems like extensions of the ornamentation as they go into dramatic limb locks. The costumes come off for a transcendent journey into the human heart, body and soul, rendered in beatified images from the Silk Road where Wei spent 40 days traveling from Bejing to Xion.