Shen Wei & Performance Art

“The innate politics of any street performance have to do with the definition of the street as a convenience and necessity provided by the state for its citizens.  A parade celebrates the public nature of the entire street, repossessing it (momentarily) from the state and from productive use, redefining it as a performance space, and this celebrating all those participating – paraders and pedestrians, performers and audience.  The parade’s festive, non-productive use of the street is always subtly or blatantly carnivalesque.”

–       John Bell, “Louder Than Taffic”

Best known for choreographing the opening ceremonies at the Summer Olympics in Beijing, Shen Wei has been celebrated as for sophisticated choreography, lighting designs, and minimalist costumes, recognized for his abstracted paintings and most recently, for his work in film.

Although Shen Wei is mostly known for dance arts, he has used his experience with choreography for performance art as well. In 2010, Shen Wei Dance Arts held several street performances in Times Square. The performance was part of the Times Square Alliance’s Public Art Program, which seeks to bring free art to the area. The company held eight different performances in all, at various landmarks around New York City, including the 42nd street subway station.

Shen Wei Dance Company has also performed in several site-specific art performances, including staging Still Moving at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The performance was a means of fostering dialogue with the gallery’s sculptures – celebrating the body as works of art from the past as well as the body in movement in the present.

Shen Wei Dance Company also performed in the historic Judson Church in New York’s West Village where Shen Wei re-staged Connect Transfer to be interactive with the audience. Dance is transformed into visual art as dancers paint their movements onto a giant white canvas. In the video, the aspect most controversial to me is the woman covered in paint. As the other dancers frolic around her, is she writhing in pain? If so, what is the message Shen Wei is trying to evoke? Perhaps it is suggesting the inevitable exploitation of art. After the show, the canvas was divided into sections and sold each segment as a piece of art.

It would be interesting if Shen Wei used his expressive performance art as a means to instigate activism. His performances are so beautiful to watch – the silence of the dancers intoxicating. It kind of reminds me of silent protests – which can be so symbolic and profound. It makes me wonder which form of protesting can achieve more results? A massive but silent movement or a large and loud one? Either way, based on history it would seem that both methods have worked.

Below, I posted my favorite Shen Wei performance, Folding. In the beginning, the dancers are reciting Tibetan chants – it reminds me of the Tibetan monks who used non-violent protests and were set on fire by the military.  It would seem as though there is a silent but definite connection of Shen Wei’s dance art to that of protesting and performance art.

Categories: Reflective Posts


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