Wen Wei Wang: souls unbound

 

 

March, 2019

 

A couple of years ago Wen Wei Wang made a dance called Dialogue, for six male dancers. It was about ways that we make contact with each other—or don’t. The piece threw a transformative cloak of grace and order over roughshod male energy and competition.
Now he has made Ying Yun, for five female dancers. They are not at all alike, these pieces, and yet they have a similarity, and that similarity is in their generosity and understanding of what it is to be human. They render visible the idea of souls unbound.
As a dancer, Wen Wei Wang always commanded the stage with disciplined power and inherent elegance, a coiled, oiled versatility that was a product of his background (his upbringing in China, and his experience as a dancer in styles ranging from Peking opera and Chinese ballet to a wide range of Western contemporary movement).
That breadth of experience in life and art inevitably shapes his expression as a choreographer. He respects and celebrates the individual and shows us what it is like to be truly free in the body. Being free in the body is not as easy as it might sound. And it is a paradox of sorts that this sense we get of meeting individuals at their most liberated—souls unbound—is founded on the controlled elegance and restrained power that so distinguished his performance.
The new piece investigates the lifelong influence of what he calls his close affinity with femininity and womanhood. It is dedicated to his late mother—the title, Ying Yun, is his mother’s name: Ying, he tells us, could mean hero, and Yun indicates clouds. Because of this, we are bound to be looking and listening for references to his Chinese background, and we can fancy we hear them occasionally in the street sounds on the soundtrack. We might also imagine her spirit in the projected image of a glowing sun-circle that dominates the stage for a time then diminishes to a tiny ball of glowing defiance.

As always with his work, we see a range of influences from his dancing career (ballet tropes: the dying swan, the impossibly beautiful princess) along with the torqued joints, deep, powerful squats, leaps and lunges and swirls of the modernists. The bodies of the dancers imbue this movement with an aura of the feminine—soft power, controlled with a restraint and discipline reminiscent of the work and teaching of his mentor and partner, the late Grant Strate: a solemn, alert grace.

There is generally something heroic going on in Wen Wei Wang’s work, in the sense that we witness the human creature striving nobly; it is evident here in the sustained poise and exquisite control of these women as they push to their expressive limits. We see them as confident individuals, collaborating, respecting each other’s beings, admitting us to human truths through human movement: the same grace beyond gender that we saw in Dialogue. Together on a single bill these pieces would make a powerful pairing.

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Grace under fire: Wen Wei Wang

 

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.
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Edouard Lock: showman or shaman?

A presentation to the Royal Society of CanadaNational Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, November 19, 2004

© Max Wyman

In the late 20th and early 21st century, dance has been shaped by a few great artists with the vision and the audacity to exploit and explore the possibilities of the artform in a new fashion. Two of them have spent their careers working in Europe: Pina Bausch, who is German and works in the area of neo-expressionist theatrical modernism, and William Forsythe, an American also working in Germany, whose interests lie in expanding the expressive potential of classical ballet. A third is Canadian: Edouard Lock. Continue reading

A night of torrid tango

December 4, 1987: Always sensitive to the shock of the new, I make my way to Graceland—bare concrete floor, bare steel pillars, “Vancouver’s sleekest nightspot”—for Vancouver New Music’s Tango Cabaret: “a night of torrid tango nouveau.”

US pianist Yvar Mikhashoff, bushy-haired and bespectacled, has asked 100 composers to create tangos and he plays us some of them: one by novelist Anthony Burgess, very English and subtle in its decorations, another by the astrologer who played John the Baptist in The Ten Commandments. There’s a little nothing of a tango by John Cage, one by a composer who never wrote anything but this one piece, and one by a composer who didn’t actually know what a tango was. Continue reading

The truth is out there

In the 1990s Vancouver became a significant centre for TV and film production—for a time it was dubbed Hollywood North—and in the spring of 1997 our house-sitter Laura McFadzean, who lived down the road and helped run Liz Bell’s modelling/acting talent agency, mentioned that the movie people were always looking for new faces and suggested I try out for a cameo role on The X-Files. They wanted a defecting scientist with a thick Russian accent and Laura thought that because I spoke a bit of Russian I might fit the bill. Continue reading

European theatre festival at Pilsen, 2015

September, 2015: The curators at this year’s International Theatre Festival in Pilsen, in the Czech Republic, deny they intended to identify trends in the region or to present a series of plays contributing to a common theme. So it must be the spirit of the times—the zeitgeist, we might say—that created the sense of moral purpose, existential significance and joyous life-force that permeated this tumultuous week. Continue reading