3.5 out of 4 stars
Shen Wei Dance Arts made its debut Chicago performance this weekend, and gave dance fans a lot to murmur and exclaim over. The New York based international touring company presented two starkly different works, Rite of Spring and Folding. Both pieces have a detached, cerebral quality; declining to engage emotionally but mightily impressive visually.
Shen Wei’s Rite of Spring is not the Rite of Spring you might expect, given its iconic title. In his version, 14 dancers take their places within a square of light like players on a chess board. Their feet twitch, then their legs bend, and finally they zoom around the space with stiffly held bodies, atoms heating up as the piano does. Intensely physical sequences are punctuated by moments of stillness; lines and groups form only to desintegrate again into the surrounding action. Solos, duos, and group work all make appearances, as do unison and contrast, a masterful example of composition. The dancers of the company are precise in the slightly robotic style of the piece; Alex Speedie stands out with impossibly bouyant jumps. The music, (set to a four-hand piano version of Stravinsky’s score by Fazil Say), still implies danger, but the narrative is removed, a more abstract exercise in musicality in its place. The cool blue and slate colors of the costumes and lighting reflect this reserved mood. Unusual for a major company, Shen Wei is behind the costuming, makeup, and set design. “The body is but part of the complete experience,” he says.
Folding is a completely different complete experience. Dominated by slow, deliberate movements and striking images, it could more rightly be called a set of moving sculptures than a dance. Pale-painted torsos in bright red fabric with headdresses remind one simultaneously of ancient Sumer and The Handmaid’s Tale, creating an otherworldly, dreamlike state. Dancers appear woven together with heavy black cloth, like two- headed beasts, and unfold from each other in bizarre ways. The style conjures Eastern forms like noh and butoh, yet creates something entirely new. The ending image-- a group of bodies seeming to float, vaguely menacing and completely gravity-defying-- is haunting.
Through September 24
50 E Congress Parkway