November 23, 2017
Wen Wei Wang’s latest choreography, Dialogue, which opened the Dance in Vancouver biennial last night, continues his explorations of themes of inter-human interchange, our need to make connections with others and our anxiety when attempts to connect are misunderstood.
Six male dancers lay their bodies and souls on the line in a linked series of solo, duo and group pieces that approach this universal human dilemma from various skewed viewpoints, some of them wryly comical, some of them bittersweet. They give us glimpses of human creatures in all their flawed grace.
Wang’s own dancing is infused with steely power and a languid grace of its own—a product of the creative fusion that can occur when different traditions meet and cross-fertilize: Chinese dance, Peking opera, Russian ballet, contemporary North American ballet and a wide miscellany of modern dance techniques have all influenced the movement he makes.
He does not dance in this piece, but his presence is everywhere. In earlier years this distinctive look of his seemed to translate imperfectly to his dancers—perhaps not surprisingly, given the cultural chasms the group bridged. But most of the current company members have been with him for several seasons, and today that distinctive Wen Wei look—that mute, alert elegance and coiled control—lets them gleam with a contained, common nobility: grace shared.
Not that his style homogenizes them; quite the opposite, in fact. It gives a high sheen to each person’s particular physicality, manifested here—because it’s a dancework—in gesture and movement of singular clarity and force. Fierceness is the expected male attitude of first resort; but fierceness, we discover, need not be much more than skin deep, and acceptance and understanding melt it away like hot embers under snow.
A big, bearded hulk of a guy flips his bulk about the stage with the fluidity of a dolphin; a lithe little ectomorph shows just how seriously sensuous a man dancing in mile-high stilettos can be. Over the space of an hour or so, we come to know these six men in all their flawed, stubborn defiance as human creatures, striving, vulnerable, reaching out to connect. They offer themselves as they are—a brave and hopeful act of trust that invites us to love them for their blazing difference. They make us realize that they are us.