THE 8-minute performance of 15 dancers drawing an ink-wash painting with their body movements at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics wowed audiences worldwide. The creator of that sensation, Shen Wei, will bring his aesthetics to Shanghai for the first time during the Shanghai International Arts Festival next month.
The Chinese-American choreographer, visual artist and director will present two of his best-known works — “Rite of Spring” and “Folding” — at Shanghai Culture Square on October 25-26.
Shen was born into a traditional Chinese opera family and studied ink-wash painting since childhood and Western painting since his teenage years. He is frequently cited for his innovative blend of Asian and Western sensibilities and his syncretic approach to performance art.
Widely recognized for his defining vision of an intercultural and interdisciplinary mode of movement-based performance, Shen creates original works that employ an assortment of media elements, including dance, painting, sound, sculpture, theater and video.
In addition to his work for the Olympics, he has been commissioned by the Park Avenue Armory, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Lincoln Center Festival and the TeatroDell’Opera di Roma. The upcoming performance will mark the first time Shen has staged his works in Shanghai after years of touring the world.
For the local show, he selected two of his early works which he has brought to many art festivals worldwide.
“I think it is important for the audiences to know about my past before fully accepting who I am now,” says Shen. “Both early works are important in my creations and are still being staged worldwide.
I believe that they will be very helpful for new audiences to appreciate my other works later.”
Though modern art has developed quickly in China within the recent dozen years, there is still a gap between Chinese and Western modern art, in Shen’s view. That’s why he made a rather conservative choice in bringing programs to China: “Rite of Spring” is based on Stravinsky’s well-known classic music while “Folding” features Chinese philosophy.
“When I first heard Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ in 1989, I was obsessed with the great richness in the work. It has a very complicated music structure and embraces great passion in storytelling,” says Shen.
Disregarding the various dance products based on “Rite of Spring,” Shen created his own work in 2001. Rather than telling a story, Shen decided to present a dynamic abstract painting based on the music.
“Some people say that it is difficult to understand abstract art, but it is exactly the opposite in my opinion,” says Shen. “Without stories, all that an abstract artwork tries to deliver is a recognition by sense. As long as it impresses you in some way, you have already understood it.”
“Folding” was created by Shen in 2000, based on part of Lao-tzu’s philosophy — “da yin xi sheng, da xiang wu xing,” which suggests that the most beautiful voice in the world is silence while the most beautiful image is emptiness.
It is also a work without plot, and tries to impress the audiences by Shen’s own aesthetics.
“No plot doesn’t mean no discussion. I consider a major task of art is to communicate with people’s soul and thought, rather than limited within a specific event,” says Shen.
Two other works in the coming exhibition, “0-12” and “1+1,” are excerpts from Shen’s “Collective Measures” created in 2013. Multimedia including video, lighting and painting are used to present art on stage.