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Monday, December 6, 2021

Movement meets art with Shen Wei Dance Arts

East meets West and movement meets art at the Mondavi Center. As part of the Dance Series, the Mondavi will present Re- (Part One) and Folding, two pieces from contemporary dance company Shen Wei Dance Arts.

The company will perform the pieces tomorrow at 8 p.m. at Jackson Hall. Tickets can be purchased at the Mondavi Center ticket office or online at mondaviarts.org. Student tickets are $14 and general admission is $37. A post-performance question-and-answer session will be offered with choreographer and company founder Shen Wei.

For Shen, his art knows no boundaries. Touted as one of the most innovative dance companies today, the New York-based Shen Wei Dance Arts elaborates on the fundamentals of contemporary dance, bringing visual art concepts to physical forms and movement.

It’s a … total artistic experience, said Jeremy Ganter, director of programming at the Mondavi Center. He doesn’t believe in tempering out dance from the visual experience.

Born in Hunan, China, Shen grew up in a family well-versed in the arts world. His mother was a producer and his father ran the Hunan State Xian Opera Company, where Shen performed from 1984 to 1989. In addition to Chinese opera, he studied painting, calligraphy and sculpture.

Education in other forms of art contributed to Shen’s understanding of movement and physical space on stage. As well as being a dancer and choreographer, Shen is also a painter and designer, and he helps create costumes and sets for the company. Davidson said that his visual art background has informed his work, giving his work a distinctive look.

Shen Wei started out as a visual artist, said theatre and dance professor Della Davidson. He is very strong in imagery, and he works a lot from that kind of painterly perspective.

Ganter, who has seen the company twice before, said that audiences can expect a new vocabulary for choreography.

Strictly as a choreographer, he’s very interested in … finding new ways to express [art] through the body, Ganter said.

In addition to a multidisciplinary knowledge in the arts, Master of Fine Arts candidate in choreography Randee Paufve said that Shen’s overseas training in China was a valuable starting point.

I appreciate the fact that he’s working in this form, but from a different culture than the United States, Paufve said. I see a lot of cultural dance history expanding the globe.

Shen’s choreography introduces Chinese acrobatics and martial arts to Western dance traditions. He played a part in the founding of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, China’s first modern dance company. After coming to New York in 1994, he created Shen Wei Dance Arts in 2000.

For Paufve, the choreography from Shen Wei pushes the envelope of what is considered to be contemporary dance. Paufve currently teaches Drama 14: Introduction to Dance, and she included the Shen Wei company’s performance as part of the course’s curriculum.

[In the class], we talk about what is contemporary dance, she said. Right now, I think that it refers to new performance genres where dance is a big part of what is being created.

To introduce the choreographer and the program is a pre-performance lecture by Davidson. The lecture will be at 7 p.m. in Jackson Hall and is free and open to the public. As a choreographer, Davidson said that contemporary dance is an ever-evolving and diverse art form.

One common denominator is that it uses movement to express a strong point of movement and how movement is organized on stage, she said. The style [of contemporary dance] differs from choreographer to choreographer.

Shen Wei Dance Arts will perform at Jackson Hall tomorrow at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14 for students and $37 for non-students. For more information, visit mondaviarts.org or call 754-2787.

RACHEL FILIPINAS can be reached at arts@californiaaggie.com.

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