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Choreographer Shen Wei rewinds, reflects and re-examines his career

April 11, 2010 | 11:24 am


Choreographer Shen Wei is at the point in his life (and career) when many of us experience an existential meltdown about the meaning of it all.

This season, Shen is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his New York-based dance company. Later this year, he will turn 42. If ever there was a time for a midlife crisis, this would be it.

But the unflappable Shen appears to regard his milestone season with the same distanced, cerebral approach as he does his art. The choreographer said he rarely goes out to socialize and that his company would be working extra hard this year and next as part of their anniversary celebration. (In the dance universe, "celebration" is apparently a relative term.)

On Friday, Shen Wei Dance Arts will appear at the Orange County Performing Arts Center to present "Re- (Parts I, II, III)." The triptych is a complex work that takes viewers on a time-traveling journey that includes virtual stops in Tibet, Cambodia's Angkor Wat and contemporary China.

Though he often quotes or references ancient dance, Shen's style of choreography is distinctly modern in its preference for abstraction, dissonance and ordered chaos. His dancers -- who hail from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds -- are often arranged on stage in a manner to deliberately deprive viewers of a single point of focus in favor of a multiplicity of writhing bodies.

International audiences got a brief taste of Shen's talents during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. For that event, Shen had dancers use their feet and arms to draw on an oversized canvas in the Birds Nest stadium.

"Re-" is perhaps the ideal work for Shen's company on this anniversary season. With its themes of reflection and renewal, it provides an informal retrospective of Shen's many choreographic obsessions.

Read the full story in Sunday's Arts & Books section.

-- David Ng

Photo: members of Shen Wei Dance Arts perform from "Re-". Credit: Alex Pines / OCPAC