Shen Wei Dance Arts’ Limited States Offers Prolific Creativity

Written by Victoria McConnell

Shen Wei Dance Arts in Limited States
Photo by Rick McCullough
The first and last thing a human knows is her body. Unable to avoid the elemental body, the dancers in Shen Wei Dance Arts’ west coast premiere of Limited States wore only nude briefs, but took the stage with pedestrian steps and performers’ confidence this Thursday evening at UW’s Meany Hall.  Minimal yet dense, the performance was layered with sound, paint, sculptural movement, lighting, projection, and video. Collaborating with different artists on the costumes and video design, founder and Artistic Director Shen Wei is involved in not only concept and choreography, but every aspect of Limited States.


Alternating between distracting and fascinating, the first section, Dimension, highlights both the awkward and the beautiful. Performed by the full company to music ranging from Gioachino Antonio Rossini and Weather Reports from NOAA National Weather Service to Asher and Jerry Feller, the piece encases both absurd individual repetitions and gentle liquid partnering. The dancers’ bodies are all unique yet as the entire performance unfolds they take on a homogenous and almost alien quality. The dancers were ‘other’ in their supple control, their immobile faces, and their delicious flowing movements that led their bodies through familiar visceral places into foreign shapes.


Shen Wei Dance Arts in Limited States
Photo by Rick McCullough
In contrast with their human bareness, there is an intricate and constant interplay of multimedia technology with the dancers’ bodies throughout the performance.  Almost completing the illusion of ‘real time,’ the entire performance opens with a floating projection of a partially nude woman moving by core impulse. Only as more and more dancers pick up and drop, toss and catch the movement between their bodies, do the limitations of the projection register.


As one might expect of an artist versatile in many forms, Shen Wei’s artistic voice includes the rich dialects of the visual arts and sound. This is seen most clearly in the second section, 0–11,which continued the tone of movement and music from Dimension, while introducing a respite of color. Created on a founding dancer of the company, Sarah Procopio, to celebrate her 11 years, 0–11catches the eye immediately with a tantalizingly small, white lit square of stage encased in larger black canvas. More than any of the other pieces in Limited States, the movement in 0–11 embodies varied textures and emotions which Procopio fully abandons herself to.


Rippling and building slowly, Shen Wei’s minimalistic approach to movement enhances the works’ visual texture. This includes the scattered phrases of united movement, as well as the images that return throughout the piece.  It is the piercing diagonal of palms to elbow and fingers puckered in gestures of picking, pulling, and placing, that connect one section to the next. This development is powerful, and the final section, Internal External #2, comes close to fully striking that chord. Similar to the layering of movement, the music Shen Wei employs sets the tone and the sense of context. Composed by Daniel Burke, Internal External #2 uses layers of industrial sounds and voice. Here, the positive and negative of minimalism are seen as the music and dance swell conveying internal and external discord.  Though ears were ready for a change, the immensity of sound continued well beyond that point and when a change finally came, it was small relief. Though the building of intensity through repetition in Limited States gives the eyes, ears, and brain time to engage, in several places it lingers too long before the release.


Arresting the attention with unique quality of movement and integration of multiple art forms into the work, Shen Wei Dance Arts’ performance is undeniably complex. The precise fluidity of the dancers’ movement, the subtlety of contact in partnering, and use of technology are absorbing. Limited States is rich with attractions (and distractions), but seeing the prolific creativity of an artist at the forefront of the dance and visual arts is wholly inspiring. The performance continues February 3–4, 2012, at UW’s Meany Hall. Tickets can be purchased at http://uwworldseries.org/.