Shen Wei

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For the Chinese photographer, see Shen Wei (photographer).
Shen Wei 沈伟
Shenwei1.jpg
Shen Wei in 2011
Born 1968
Hunan, China
Nationality U.S.A.
Known for
Awards
  • Artist of the Year Audi Award 2013
  • Nijinsky Award for Emerging Choreographer
  • MacArthur Award
  • Helpmann Award
  • US Artists Fellowship
  • Guggenheim Fellowship
Website

Shen Wei (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: shěn wěi) is a Chinese-born American choreographer, visual artist and director who resides in New York City. Widely recognized for his defining vision of an intercultural and interdisciplinary mode of movement-based performance, Shen Wei creates original works that employ an assortment of media elements, including dance, painting, sound, sculpture, theater and video.[1] Frequently, critics have commented on his innovative blend of Asian and Western sensibilities, as well as his syncretic approach to performance art.[2]

In 2000, he founded Shen Wei Dance Arts and became the Artistic Director of the contemporary dance company. The works he has created for the company is based on his own dance technique created over the past 12 years, a movement language he calls Natural Body Development.[3] In recent years, Shen Wei has expanded his artistry to include large-scale multimedia works showcasing original art installations,[4] and original video and animation material.[5] Shen Wei's 13 major movement-based works has toured in 30 countries in 130 cities.[6]

Shen Wei has been commissioned by the 2008 Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony,[7] Park Avenue Armory,[8][9] The Metropolitan Museum in New York City,[10] the Lincoln Center Festival[2] and the TeatroDell'Opera di Roma, as well as contemporary ballet companies such as Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. For each new work he choreographs, Shen Wei typically designs all the visual elements including the sets, costumes and make-up, film projection and lighting as well.

In addition to creating works for the proscenium Shen Wei has also created works for fashion shows, art exhibition openings, and other cultural productions for international companies. In July 2008, he choreographed a fashion show at Paris Haute Couture for the label WUYONG, by the Chinese designer Ma Ke.[11]

In 2004 Shen Wei received the Nijinsky Award for Emerging Choreographer and in 2007 he received the MacArthur Award.[12]

China (1968–1994) early education and influences[edit]

Family background and education in the arts[edit]

Shen (family name) Wei (give name) was born in 1968 in Hunan, China to an artist family during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. His father is a Chinese opera director, performer and calligrapher, and his mother is a theater producer. Both of Shen Wei's brothers are visual artists.

Shen Wei left home at the age of nine to study classical Chinese Opera at The Hunan Arts School (now: Hunan Vocational College of the Arts) for more than 6 years (1978–1984). His training included voice, dance and theater performance. At the same time he also self-taught Chinese Traditional Painting and calligraphy. From 1984 to 1989 Shen Wei was a member of the Hunan State Xian Opera Company, performing leading roles in the company.[13]

Following China's reestablishment of diplomatic and economic ties to the West in the early 80's, Shen Wei began to study western classic oil painting techniques and styles of artists such as Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Modigliani, Francis Bacon and Lucian Michael Freud.

In 1989 he discovered a passion for modern dance and moved to Guangzhou to study at China's first modern dance education institution, the Guangzhou Modern Dance Academy. During his two years at the academy he was taught by master teachers such as Ross Parks and David Hochoy from the Martha Graham Dance Company, Betty Jones and Fritz Ludin from the Jose Limon Dance Company, Claudia Gitelman from Alwin Nikolais Dance Company, and Liz Walton from the Paul Taylor Dance Company. The program was jointly supported by the American Dance Festival[14] and the Asian Cultural Council.[15] In 1991, Shen Wei became one of the founding members of the China's first modern dance company, the Guangdong Modern Dance Company,[16] choreographing and dancing with the company until 1994.

Early creations[edit]

Shen Wei's early work is influenced by multiple disciplines within traditional Chinese and Western art. During the early 90's he created 10 dance works for the Guangdong Modern Dance Company and many oil paintings. "Still Child", "Racing With The Sun", "Colored Relations" and "Insomnia" became part of the repertory of the company during this time.

Additionally, he is the one of China's first underground experimental performing artists. In 1994 he created his one-man, experimental multi-media show "Small Room", which toured in Guangzhou, Beijing and Hong Kong, and which catapulted him into the public eye. In 1994 he was awarded the First Prize in both Choreography and Performance at the National Modern Dance Competition in China.

New York (1995–present)[edit]

Early New York life and work (1995–1999)[edit]

After receiving a three-month scholarship from the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab, Shen Wei moved to New York City on Jan 15, 1995 and began his 5 years of artistic experimentation in New York City. During this time he expanded his artistic knowledge, studying artists such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Federico Fellini, Mark Rothko, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Igor Stravinsky, and Steve Reich. In dance, he explored release techniques from which he began to develop his own movement language.

Shen Wei also performed for Murray Louis and was part of four of Martha Clarke's productions. Additionally, he began creating works for the American Dance Festival and Alvin Ailey II. In 1997, Cloud Gate Dance Theater toured his revised version of "The Bed" commissioned by American Dance Festival in 1995. He also toured his one man show "Small Room" at The Palace Theater in London, The Asia Society in NYC and Hollins College in VA.

Dance and visual work in conjunction with minimalism and surrealism (1999–2001)[edit]

After 5 years of living in New York, Shen Wei began to develop a style of movement that has been described as "enigmatic" and "dream-like", and which is exemplified by "Folding" (2000),[17][18] "Near The Terrace, Part I & II" (2000–2001)[19] "Behind Resonance" (2001).[20] According to Anna Kisselgoff, in these early pieces, the surrealist aesthetic emerges as a result of a disruption in what Shen Wei calls, "natural elements," such as regular breathing cycles, which affects the quality of movement in dancers.[21] Folding and Near the Terrace have also been described as "kinetic tableus,";[22] the entire dance space characterized by swathes of color and sculptural movement. In 2000 after his premiere of "Near The Terrace" at the American Dance Festival (19) he formed his New York based company, Shen Wei Dance Arts, which went on to tour at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,[23] and the Switzerland Steps Festival in 2002.[24]

Use of abstraction in choreography, music, and visual arts (2003–2005)[edit]

In 2003, Shen Wei reinterpreted Stravinsky's "Rite Of Spring", creating a piece that is accompanied by Fazil Say's fourhanded piano version of the Stravinsky's score. Divorcing itself from any narrative element, the "stripped-to-the-bone abstraction" places emphasis on the structural power in the music, dance and visual setting. The piece had its New York debut at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2003.[25]

Shen Wei's "Connect Transfer" uses music by Iannis Xenakis, Kevin Volans and Gyorgy Ligeti. The work explores "internal and external body movements, as well as energy transitions," and is a synthesis of music, dance, painting, and sculpture.[26]

"Map" is a musically inspired piece created with Steve Reich's, The Desert Music, and is accompanied with visual designs from Shen Wei's rehearsal sketches of choreographic and music arrangement structures.[27] The work investigates new ways of moving and has a basis in Shen Wei's Natural Body Development technique.

Abstraction in painting[edit]

Shen Wei's study of abstraction is also evident in his visual artworks. Chris Mao, in Movements, writes, "Not concerned with visual impact, [Shen Wei] focused on the energy of his movements, using different kinds of brushes to convey different kinds of movements."[28] "Energies" and "flows" are explored on canvas as a response to auditory stimulus. This particular kind of abstraction, according to Kisselgoff, is to be distinguished from American action painting, since it does not utilize the abstract expressionist techniques of dripping or throwing paint onto canvas.[28] Solo exhibitions of Shen Wei's movement paintings took place in 2005 and 2007.[28]

Re-discovering the East through personal travel (2005–2009)[edit]

Between 2005 and 2009 Shen Wei embarked on a personal journey, spending time in China (2004), Cambodia, (2005), Tibet (2005, 2006), and on China's Silk Road (2007). In 2007, he returned to Beijing in order to help direct and choreograph the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremonies.

In the midst of this period of travel, Shen Wei produced Second Visit of the Empress, a hybrid creation that overtly fuses traditional Chinese Opera and Theater with western modern dance. This large-scale production, which is a reinvention of a traditional Chinese opera narrative, consists of four Chinese Opera Singers, sixteen Chinese Musician and fourteen American contemporary dancers.[29] The opera melds polarities, placing narrative and abstractive, traditional and contemporary, as well as Eastern and Western expressions within a single performance space.

Re-Triptych is a meditation of Shen Wei's travels in three parts. Re-I is inspired by spirituality in Tibet; Re-II is inspired by the history of Angkor Wat in Cambodia; and Re-III explores the imagery of the Silk Road and the mutual influencing of different cultures.[30] The three works are based on cultural investigations—discovering different kinds of human lifestyles and social interactions. The piece integrates original movement with recordings of traditional folk music, multimedia imagery, and installation.[31] Re-Triptych took over three years to complete (2006–2009).

Shen Wei is the director and choreographer of the opening segment "Scroll" at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Ceremony, which references his 2004 work "Connect Transfer". He was also a lead creative consultant for the planning of the Opening Ceremony.[32]

Multimedia, site-specific, installation performances (2010–2012)[edit]

Exhibition and Performance with Installations at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City 2012

Shen Wei's more recent works step outside the boundaries of conventional concert dance. Since 2010, he has increasingly implemented other media forms in his work, a decision which represents Shen Wei's impression of today's technology saturated society as well as what art in future may look like. His work for Ballet Monte-Carlo, "7 to 8 and," the ADF commissioned "Limited States," and "The New You" produced by the Meadows Prize Project utilize film and live projections, sound installations, still life painting in addition to his own movement language.[33] "The New You" also contains a theater component with a script written by Shen Wei.

Site-specificity has also been prevalent in Shen Wei's work since 2010. In October 2010, his company presented a series of public performances in various locations throughout New York City. The vignettes consisted of excerpts from Re-(III), each of which were adapted for the specific urban space, which included Times Square, Wall Street, Union Square, 42nd st. subway station and many others.[34] Prior to this, Shen Wei created a site-specific response piece to Ernesto Neto's installation, Anthropodino, at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. Dancers and audience members moved within the collective space of Neto's immersive sculpture.

In June 2011, Shen Wei Dance Arts performed Still Moving in the American Wing of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Commissioned by the Museum, Still Moving is, according to Shen Wei, about "creating a dialogue between the dancers and the gallery's sculptures, between past and present, between immobility and movement." The piece consists of three parts, Restaging: Near the Terrace, Transition, and Internal External #1, all contained within the Charles Englehard Court. It is the first site-specific performance in the history of the Metropolitan Museum.[35]

On November 29, 2011, Shen Wei Dance Arts premiered "Undivided Divided", its largest production to date. Commissioned by the Park Avenue Armory, the immersive, site-specific piece reconfigures traditional performer-audience relations so that audience members move and survey dance within the multimedia performance space. Amidst the performers and enveloped by sound and projections, audience members, in a sense, become part of the performance. The performance of Undivided Divided at Park Avenue Armory had over 30 dancers. It will be presented, as part of the company's rep, in museums and galleries.[36]

Philosophy[edit]

Shen Wei considers himself an artist that is fascinated with the human body.[37] In an interview with Zinta Lundborg of Bloomberg (2011), Shen Wei stated, "Dancers should show expression through their body movement. They're not actors." His "Natural Body Development" technique takes a holistic approach to dance, integrating breath-work with proprioception, visual focus, weight, and gravity. For Shen Wei, movement can be initiated by chi or breath. This idea is further guided by his philosophies of internal and external energies and how the two are mutually affecting, constantly generating and generated by the physical body. As such, Shen Wei argues against dualist philosophies, believing dancers should "develop their minds as much as their bodies." He states, "I don't use dancers to copy some movement – human beings are not just puppets. A dancer has to have a really open mind, and be willing to take a risk."

In his choreographic process, Shen Wei also employs structured improvisation, allowing dancers to use their intuitions to create novel movement assemblages. His seminal work, Rite of Spring, contains a series of carefully guided improvisations that result in a "set structure with a balance between movement exactitude and movement intuition."[38]

Shen Wei has stated that his number one goal when making art is "inspire other human beings". He has proclaimed, "When you're an artist and you're creating new works you have to have passion because you want to make it the best that you can. You want to make it as clear as you can and you want to do things you've never done before. You want to make things that have never existed before, you want to make new things; you don't want to repeat yourself. At the same time you want people to feel these things are new, make them communicate, become part of the culture and to inspire other human beings – this is my number one goal when I make new work. That's the pressure."

Select works[edit]

Folding (2000)

Near the Terrace-Part I (2001)

Behind Resonance (2001)

  • World Premiere: SUNY Purchase
  • Choreography, Set and Costume Design: Shen Wei
  • Music: David Lang
  • Lighting: David Ferri and Shen Wei

Near the Terrace-Part II (2002)

  • World Premiere: American Dance Festival
  • Concept, Choreography, Set and Costume Design: Shen Wei
  • Music: Arvo Pärt, Benjamin Iobst, music of Mangkunêgaran
  • Lighting: David Ferri

Rite of Spring (2003)

  • Concept, Choreography, Costumes, Set and Make-up Design: Shen Wei
  • Score: Igor Stravinsky
  • Musical Recording: Fazil Say
  • Lighting: David Ferri

Exhibition-Solo Painting Exhibition (2003)

  • A series of Paintings created in conjunction with his abstracted Rite of Spring were first exhibited as part of the company's New York City debut at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2003

Connect Transfer (2004)

Map (2005)

  • World Premiere: Lincoln Center Festival
  • Concept, Choreography, Costumes, Set Design: Shen Wei
  • Music: Steve Reich
  • Lighting: David Scott Bolman

The Second Visit To the Empress (2005, 2007)

Exhibition-Solo Painting Exhibition (2005)

  • Hong Kong New Vision Arts Festival with Chambers Fine Arts in New York 2005

Re-Part I (2006)

Re-Part II (2007)

  • Concept, Choreography, Set and Costume Design; and Sounds and Images recorded at Angkor Wat: Shen Wei
  • Music: John Tavener's "Tears of the Angels," with Traditional Cambodian Music, and Original recordings by Shen Wei
  • Lighting: Jennifer Tipton
  • Projection Design: Shen Wei & Daniel Hartnett

Exhibition-Solo Painting Exhibition (2007)

  • Chambers Fine Arts in New York 2007

Fashion Show at Paris Haute Couture-WUYONG, by the Chinese designer Ma Ke (2007)

  • Direction, Choreography and Co-installation design for 40 performing artists at the Palais Royale in Paris: Shen Wei

The Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony "Scroll" Segment 2008

  • Direction and Choreography: Shen Wei
  • Original Score: Chen Qi-Gung
  • General Director of the Opening Ceremony: Zhang Yimou

Re-Part III (2009)

  • Concept, Choreography, Set and Costume Design; and Sounds and Images recorded on China's Silk Road: Shen Wei
  • Original Score: David Lang
  • Recorded Violinist: Todd Reynolds
  • Lighting: Jennifer Tipton
  • Projection Design: Shen Wei and Daniel Hartnett

7 to 8 and (2010)

  • World Premiere: Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
  • Choreography and visual and projection design: Shen Wei
  • Original Score: Dirk Haubrich

NYC Guerilla-Site Specific Work (2010)

  • Sites: Times Square, Wall Street, Union Square, 42nd st. subway station, outside of New York Public Library, outside of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Columbia University, and Battery Park
  • Concept and Choreography: Shen Wei
  • Performed by: Shen Wei Dance Arts

Still Moving (2011)[39]

Limited States (2011)

  • World Premiere: American Dance Festival
  • Concept, Choreography, Video and Animation Design: Shen Wei
  • Original Score: Daniel Burke
  • Lighting: Shen Wei and Matthew F. Lewandowski II
  • Costume: Shen Wei and Austin Scarlett

Undivided Divided (2011)

Exhibition-Solo Exhibition and Installation Performance (2012)

  • Mana Contemporary in New Jersey, USA. March 11 – June 11, 2012

The New You (2012)

  • World Premiere: The Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX
  • Concept, Direction, Choreography and Visual Design: Shen Wei

Carmina Burana (2013)

  • World Premiere: Teatro San Carlo, Napoli, Italy
  • Concept, Choreography, and Direction: Shen Wei
  • Program Carl Orff: Carmina Burana / Anonymous, Four Cantiones profanae (orchestrated by Jordi Bernácer)
  • Director of Music: Jordi Bernácer
  • Chorus Master: Salvatore Caputo
  • Director of Ballet: Alessandra Panzavolta
  • Director of Children's Choir: Stefania Rinaldi
  • Sets and costumes: Shen Wei
  • Angela Nisi, soprano; Valdis Jansons, baritone; Ilham Nazarov, countertenor
  • Soloists from Shen Wei Dance Arts: Cecily Campbell, Cynthia Koppe, Evan Copeland, Alex Dean Speedie
  • Orchestra, Choir, Ballet and Children's Choir of the Teatro di San Carlo

Awards and distinctions[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Fall for Dance Festival: Shen Wei Dance Arts: Map (excerpts)". New York City Center. Retrieved March 2, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Kisselgoff, Anna (July 25, 2003). "LINCOLN CENTER FESTIVAL REVIEW; A Breakout For the 'Rite'". New York Times. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Shen Wei's Natural Body Development Technique". Shen Wei Dance Arts. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  4. ^ Seibert, Brian (November 30, 2011). "Undaunted by a Great Canvas, Filling It With Spectacles". Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  5. ^ Upchurch, Michael (July 26, 2012). "Shen Wei evening shimmers with variety". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  6. ^ "About the Company". Shen Wei Dance Arts. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  7. ^ Fowler, Geoffrey (August 9, 2008). "A New Yorker Exalts China". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Shen Wei Dance Arts". Park Avenue Armory. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  9. ^ Zongker, Brett (April 19, 2008). "US choreographer Shen Wei to help direct Olympic ceremony". USA Today. AP. Retrieved October 4, 2011. 
  10. ^ Catton, Pia (June 3, 2011). "At the Met, the Art Moves". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  11. ^ Leong, Karen (August 9, 2008). "Oriental haute couture". Financial Times. Retrieved October 4, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Shen Wei". World Economic Forum. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  13. ^ Kaufman, Sarah (October 16, 2005). "In A Foreign Land, A Choreographer Will Touch Home". Washington Post. 
  14. ^ "International History". American Dance Festival. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  15. ^ "ACC Alumni". Asian Cultural Council. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  16. ^ "About Us". Guang Dong Modern Dance Company. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  17. ^ Rosen, Brian M. "Glacial is the New Black". Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  18. ^ Broili, Susan (August 1, 2010). "Shen Wei's Something Old, Something New". The Herald Sun. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  19. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna (July 4, 2001). "A Stream of Images Inspired by Surrealism". New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  20. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna (May 1, 2001). "In a Sculpture Garden, Beauty as Strangeness". New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  21. ^ Mao, Christopher (2006). Movements: Paintings by Shen Wei. Chambers Fine Arts. ISBN 9780977233687. 
  22. ^ Catton, Pia (September 25, 2006). "Creating a Visual Feast". The New York Sun. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  23. ^ Lewis, Jean Battey (October 20, 2001). "Shen Wei's Moving Steps". The Washington Times. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  24. ^ Pellaton, Ursula (April 15, 2002). "Unusual, but Innately Familiar". Lake Zurich News. 
  25. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna (June 13, 2002). "Expanding 'The Rite of Spring' by Paring it Down". The New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  26. ^ Catton, Pia (July 16, 2004). "A Modern Masterpiece". The New York Sun. 
  27. ^ Kaufman, Sarah (October 30, 2008). "Shen Wei's Olympian Feet: Soaring to Artistic Heights". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  28. ^ a b c Mao, Cristophe (2006). Movements: Paintings by Shen Wei. Chambers Fine Arts. ISBN 9780977233687. 
  29. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (July 26, 2007). "Bridging the Centuries in a Marriage of Modern Dance and Opera". The New York Times. Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  30. ^ Hodgins, Paul (14 April 2010). "'Re-' Explores What 'East' Means". The Orange County Register. 
  31. ^ Hodgins, Paul. "Dance Leaves Behind Images of Unforgettable Power". The Orange County Register. 
  32. ^ Fowler, Geoffrey A. (August 9, 2008). "A New Yorker Exalts China". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Meadows Prize Goes to Choreographer and a playwright/performer". Southern Methodist University. Dec 7, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  34. ^ "Shen Wei Stage a Guerilla Dancing Event". ITN Source. October 29, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  35. ^ Fincato, Olivia (May 13, 2011). "Shen Wei Dance Art". Vogue.it. Retrieved August 15, 2012. 
  36. ^ Solomons Jr., Gus (Dec 14, 2011). "Shen Wei Takes on the Great Indoors". Gay City News. Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  37. ^ Rose, Charlie. "A conversation with Shen Wei". Charlie Rose. Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  38. ^ "Shen Wei Dance Arts Makes Center for the Arts Appearance". The Mason Gazette. April 19, 2007. Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
  39. ^ "At the Met, the Art Moves (excerpts)". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 2, 2012. 

External links[edit]