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Sunday, July 1, 2007
Presented by The American Dance Festival
Durham, North Carolina

I have been abducted. I have been prodded and probed. I have been transported to Shen Wei’s strange and bewitching worlds, embraced by his ethereal characters and gripping tableaus, and reminded of dance’s ability to be startling and unexpected and thoroughly imaginative. I’m not sure where I’ve been, to be quite honest, but I wouldn’t mind going back.

Shen Wei Dance Arts showed two very different sides of itself in Sunday’s performance at the American Dance Festival. “The Rite of Spring” offered a vigorously kinetic experience while “Folding” guided us through a rich visual odyssey.

Amidst the frantic walks, graceful dives, and abrupt spirals that emerge out of “The Rite of Spring,” there is a moment of quiet stillness. Eyes tightly closed, the ensemble stands rigid downstage and waits. Sudden impulses run through the group: a fist clenches, a shoulder shrugs, a head twitches. The tensing of their muscles grips me and without realizing it my heart is pounding. Shen Wei leads us into a complex maze of strict patterns and defined rules, broken by bouts of abandon and explosions of strength, matched by the escalating drama of Stravinsky’s stripped-down score by Fazil Say.

With “Folding” Shen Wei paints an abstract masterpiece and breaths life into it. The sense of composition, the stark contrasting colors, and the sculptural shapes transform the theater into a three-dimensional canvas where he brushes in broad strokes of flowing cloth and the careful details of a pointed finger, choreographing as much with fabric as with flesh.

A golden pendulum hangs still, as if to put time on hold. A vast white ocean encompasses the scene through which elegant creatures glide, revealing long, vulnerable necks. Scurrying characters in trailing red skirts and strangely beguiling couples in black inhabit this mysterious realm. The pendulum begins to swing slowly and I realize with regret that this world, like our own, is finite and our time here is short.

The creatures in red, billowing like a jellyfish reaching for the water’s surface, eventually break apart and retreat to the black abyss which has, somehow, engulfed the space. As the pendulum swings with wider range, this alien world begins to fade. The creatures slowly ascend into the darkness. Wherever they’re going, I can’t help but wanting to follow.