Shen Wei Dance Arts
Austerity and Exoticism at the Music Center
'The Rite of Spring' and 'Folding'
by Jeff Kuo
March 19-20, 2004 -- The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" is, along with Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon" and T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland," often considered one of the originary texts of high modernism. The density of the score's percussive rhythms and the psychodrama of its archetypal images have made it nigh irresistible to choreographers and audiences. Massine, Graham, Bejart, MacMillan, Tetley, and others have all had a go at it. Pina Bausch's Tanzteater has a "Sacre," and of course there is Paul Taylor's "Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal)" seen at the Alex Theater (in Glendale) within recent years.
In literature classes, they teach the story about Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and "The Wasteland." Pound, they say, took Eliot's original version of "The Wasteland" and cut out about 2/3rd of it, reducing it to its raw genius. By using the four hand piano version of Fazil Say rather than a full orchestra and bypassing the Stravinsky-Roerich libretto for a direct response to the score, Shen Wei has stripped "Sacre" of much of its historical baggage and made it possible for audiences to really feel Stravinsky's genius. Wei's work, called "The Rite of Spring," begins even before the audience knows it as the dancers calmly walk to their places on stage before the house lights have dimmed. Fazil Say's recorded pianos thunder out from speakers to put the dancers into motion -- tumbles, leaps, twists, falls, jazzy isolations, voguish arms --and all to an eerie deadpan face held stoically through the entire work. No hunters in bearskins, no Chosen One, no human sacrifice, no riots at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Without the distraction of its celebrity baggage, Wei leaves us only the polyrhythms of Stravinsky's majestic score but visually amplified by the movement. It's "Sacre" unplugged.
The costumes of generic contemporary modern dance cut consisted of a variety of dark shirts and tights, and were designed by Wei. The lighting was by David Ferri.
After the generous intermission came the mysterious and surreal moodscape of "Folding." According to Wei's program notes, the title appeals to the conceit of 'folding' -- "a feeling about the qualities of the single action of folding -- be it paper, fabric, flesh, or other." From the mesmerizing, lush voices of the opening sequences' Tibetan Mahakala Buddhist chants, the mysterious flowing glides of the dancers, and the Tenctonese hair, "Folding" exults in its exotic textures. But its hypnotic and sensuous aura result from its all embracing sense of stillness. Much of the choreography has the dancers posing in curved attitudes or slow bends or gliding walks without perceptible steps. It would be difficult to watch such stillness except for the lush soundscape of Buddhist chant and, later, Taverner's melodies.
Such essentially alien and otherworldly impressions threaten to swallow the viewer. Perhaps not accountably, my mind returned to another use of the term "folding," that from the fantastical world of the desert planet Arrakis of the 1960s "Dune" novels of Frank Herbert -- an imaginary world of endless sand, messianic prophecy, and cruel fate -- where "folding space" is a means of space and time travel. Well, whichever impression -- space, canvas, fabric, or flesh -- the sensation is possibly a unique one, a genuine triumph in this contemporary age of polyglot sensibilities.
The music was edited by Kung Chi-Shing, the lighting by David Ferri, and costume and set design by Shen Wei. The dancers were Brooke M. Broussard, Kennis Hawkins, Jessica Harris, James Healey, Alexa Kershner, Tony Orrico, Sara Procopio, Kana Sato, Shen Wei, Hou Ying, and Jesse Zaritt.