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Brandon Whited: Something people may not know about dance, particularly modern dance, is that we actually work toward forgetting the dance steps. Dancers spend hours upon hours learning material, practicing the intricacies and coordination of the movement and perfecting it. Then we work to forget the steps. This is to say that the mark of mastery of movement is the ability to rise above the technique and work in executing the movement and simply dance it from your heart and your bones. We often refer to this as muscle memory, where your muscles almost remember so your brain can relax and you can experience the movement almost as it is happening to you. This allows you to be in the moment and truly honest, raw and vulnerable in the performance of the work. I myself, as well as other dancers i have known, have even experienced coming off stage after a dance and feeling a sense of “how did i get here,” or “what just happened?” It is a lot like the common experience most people have felt of driving on ‘auto pilot’ where you drive a certain route on a daily basis and sometimes get to your destination without a recollection of the trip. To me this is actually the desired experience in performance. It allows me to feel fully engrossed and invested in the performance.

Chelsea Retzloff: Being a dancer is tough but totally worth it. Making time for dance, work and a personal life is difficult but again, totally worth it. As an apprentice, you have to be at class, then at rehearsal fully engaged and then run to work (so you can make money to support yourself) and then find time for sleep, relaxation, food and friends. Life as a dancer in NYC is insane; there is nothing like the feeling I get when I dance and nothing that would ever stop me from making a career in dance a possibility. You have to really want it and be fully committed to doing anything to make it happen.

Being an apprentice with Shen Wei means being committed to spending a lot of time diving into an extremely technical and intellectual process that involves so much skill and finesse to fulfill Shen Wei’s creative vision. There are so many pieces and so many specifics to learn that you have to start at the beginning by getting to know each piece, then learning the main phrases from each section of each piece, applying the concepts that helped develop the piece to the movement you have learned and then eventually getting to rehearse the work with company members and hopefully perform and tour with the company.

I am really excited to go to Berlin with the company because I feel like I will get to see how the rehearsal process gets transformed into the performance process. I have toured with other companies but I have heard the the technical process is very involved for Shen Wei’s work so it will give me a lot of insight for what to expect as a dancer with the company.

This past Thursday, SWDA thrilled New York by popping up around the city for short street performances of RE-(III)!

The schedule was as follows:

Thursday October 28th
10am, 12pm & 9pm Duffy Square in Times Square
11am 42nd Street Subway
3pm Around Grand Central Station
7pm Union Square

Friday October 29th
11am Columbia University
12:30pm Wall Street
2:30pm Battery Park
4:30pm The Metropolitan Museum
7:30 DUMBO

Missed the performances? Join the Shen Wei Dance Arts Facebook Group to receive invitations to all the latest events!

Read our interview with SWDA dancer, Brandon Whited to get a sense of what was performed, how the crowd reacted, and what kind of performances Shen Wei has planned for the future. Don’t miss the next event on Friday, November 5th!

1. Guerilla performances–what a wonderful idea for an event! Has SWDA done anything like this before? Want to give us a hint about any cool performance ideas you are toying with for the future?

To my knowledge this is the first time SWDA has performed in this way. The nature of Shen Wei’s work as high art tends to thrive mainly in a controlled concert stage setting where he can create a different world on stage. I think the nature of Re- III and its fairly abstract style lends itself to this outdoor, guerilla style performance option. As far as I know, future plans in this format include guerilla style performances in other countries and cities, when possible, as we embark on tour. Likely after seeing how these last few days went, Shen Wei will be open to more like this.

2. How did the performances go in your opinion? Can you tell us a little bit about the choreography or describe the pieces in your own words?

Despite the challenges for us as dancers with two long days dancing on concrete and in the cold yesterday, I think we pulled off some very successful performances. I think in each setting we really tried to immerse ourselves in the surroundings completely. For this event we performed only Re- III. It is a piece that was born from Shen Wei’s experience traveling the length of the silk road. Re- III is a kind of expression of the clash of cultures he experienced as he traveled westward across China toward the Middle East where the gateway to the west for trade is located. That coupled with his experiences getting to know a new American culture, and more specifically the culture in New York City inspired Re- III. The piece is a look at the differences between the emphasis on individualism and collectivism in the cultures of the west and east respectively. It makes no effort to express that one or the other of these cultural essences is “right,” but simply holds a mirror to them as a means of understanding our differences and the value of both sensibilities. (These are my impressions and understandings of what Re-III is, not necessarily the direct words of Shen Wei.)

3. What was the crowd reaction like?

I found the crowds’ reactions to be extremely varied. Depending on where we were, the crowds responded to us as either a show or an experience. I found that when in front of the Library and the Met Museum the audience took on a quiet observational air, much like in a theatre setting. In Times Square, though, the space was the most defined like a stage, and the excited energetic people there tried to talk and interact with us while we were performing. In smaller settings that are even more guerilla style, I found that there was a more casual, playful energy. Some people down on Wall Street tried joining into our marching lines, sharing weight and even forming their own lines. It was very fun to see how different people in different settings responded to our work.

Don’t want to miss the next event? Here are the details:

Shen Wei Dance Arts Salon
Friday, November 5 · 7:00pm – 8:30pm
Location: Park Avenue Armory, 4th Floor

More Info:

In celebration of the SWDA Tenth Anniversary, Shen Wei will be creating new work and developing his vision for the future of the company. The Dance Salon is a rare opportunity to meet Shen Wei, guest artists, and company dancers for ‘behind-the-scenes’ presentations of the creative process and intimate dance performances.

Shen Wei took his dancers to the streets of NYC to perform excerpts of RE (III). The project will continue …around the world wherever the company performs and will be documented with video and photography, and disseminated on the Internet as a way of taking dance to the people. Join us to see how the project was conceived and how it related to Shen Wei’s vision for the future of modern dance, with live performance excerpts of RE (III).

Mark Ledzian is Director of n9 Productions and has been chronicling Shen Wei and his work, starting with the rehearsals for the guerrilla performances and the year ahead, filming interviews, dance performances, and other ventures. His documentaries about dance, musicians and artists capture the creative process and are formatted for the most current forms of technology. His work with SWDA will be at the cutting-edge of content formatted for the IPAD. Mark will be in conversation with Shen Wei about their collaboration and aspirations for the project. Moderated by France Pepper, Executive Director.

Registration: Space is limited, please pre-register by emailing dancesalon@shenweidancearts.org or call 212-962-1113.
Tickets: $15
Please arrive 15 minutes early for check in, and bring a photo ID.

What would be your advice to young dancers who want to dance for Shen Wei someday?

Come take class.

Tell me about your first time experiencing the company. What was it like?

I first saw Shen Wei Dance Arts perform at the American Dance Festival in 2004. I was immediately struck by the breadth of his vision. Never before had I seen a world so completely realized onstage. Every element: costumes, decor, movement quality, musical choices seemed to be in service of this one singular voice. I knew then that I wanted to get closer to this man, to gain access to whatever it was that he and his dancers were connecting with.

By happenstance, the person sitting next to me during this performance, Jenna Fakhoury, would also later come to dance for the company. We didn’t know it at the time, but she and I would premier a new work by Shen Wei at the same festival together five years later.

What do you think Shen Wei saw in you as a dancer?

One thing I respect about Shen Wei is that he’s not interested in filling his company with people who look just like him, or any one kind of dancer. He employs a broad range of dynamic performers and encourages them to bring themselves to the work in intimate ways. I think he saw in me my eagerness to understand his technique, and my willingness to throw myself inside of it.

Who is your favorite dancer and why? Who are your big dance role models?

I had the good fortune of being exposed to Edwin Denby’s Dancers, Buildings, and People in the Streets early in my training. This collection of dance writings opened me up to draw inspiration not only from the dancers I admire, but also the countless other forms of movement vocabulary on full view in subway cars, at sporting events, and among other incidents of live theater in New York City.

That being said, I was particularly thrilled to witness, in recent performances, the thoughtful, and expertly nuanced performances by artists in the companies of Pina Bausch, Ohad Naharin, and Merce Cunningham (Rainer Behr, Doug Letheren and Silas Riener, respectively, being standouts for me).

Did you have to overcome anything major in order to become a dancer?

Every dancer I know has faced obstacles along the way. No one (or no one I know anyway) was told that this was something they had to do. Very few, in fact, were readily encouraged. My path was perhaps a bit more roundabout than most – spending time as an economics major at Vassar College, an intern at the United Nations, or as a “shadow” at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital are not known dance career jump starts – but everyone’s path is different.

What song or piece of music makes you want to get up and dance?

Wendy Whelan, principal dancer with New York City Ballet, was once asked in an interview what she looked for in a dance partner. She replied: “I like any guy who will look into my eyes. Then I can relax and let go.” I feel similarly about music. Anything and everything that feels like it’s cutting through the noise to get to me, I’ll get up and dance with.

Interview with Wendy Whelan: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1083/is_3_77/ai_97617048/

What would be your advice to young dancers who want to dance for Shen Wei someday?

Of course any opportunity to see the company or take a workshop is a wonderful way to introduce yourself to the movement and start exploring it on your own body. But I think one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself as a dancer is to go above and beyond to make yourself comfortable in your own skin. To take the time and give yourself the freedom and trust to discover who you are as an artist and to offer that uniqueness to the people you work with, while still providing an open palette of possibility for their own artistic input. I think the combination of individuality and openness in a dancer can make the creative process and working relationship really exciting and fruitful for any choreographer (and any dancer as well).

What drew you to Shen Wei’s work? What makes him unique to work with as a choreographer?

Something that continually draws me into Shen Wei’s work is the way he develops the aesthetic of each piece. For me there is a kind of intoxicating fullness to the worlds he creates on stage, an environment that he constructs visually, musically and physically in the sensibility of the movement that makes me really sink into what’s going on. So there’s something very tangible about the specific world of each piece, but the worlds retain their abstractness…so that you’re never crossing the line into a familiar world, or a place that you could describe easily with words we use every day in the environment around us. It’s very satisfying and stimulating for me to be drawn in that way, both as an audience member and a performer.

How did you first get into dancing?

I started as a small tyke tumbling around in gymnastics classes and then caught the ballet bug when my older sister starting taking classes at a studio back home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I remember hanging on the door outside her classes and hopping around, just itching to get in there. And it’s been a passion that has kept me itching and hopping ever since!

What is your training background?

I studied ballet with Gisela Genschow in Santa Fe for 13 years and towards the end of high school I got a little more exposure to modern dance and became really interested in learning more about that kind of movement sensibility and was very fortunate to have many wonderful teachers in Santa Fe and in college at Tisch who gave me more and more tools for exploring the sensation of movement outside of a ballet structure. But I mean, I love ballet. It’s an intelligence and a physical engagement that I will always really value and enjoy investing in. And I love taking ballet class with the information that I’ve gained as a modern dancer. The lines are really not so concrete for me…there’s a happy blurring in there when you can just start to approach things as movement rather than as a codified, rigid “technique”.

What is the most challenging thing about being a Shen Wei dancer?

Ah, big question! I think, for me, one of the most challenging aspects is being fully, vigorously honest with the physical tone or quality of Shen Wei’s movement while still finding personal ownership of it. It’s never a situation of “Look at me…I am Cecily doing this movement”. It’s “Look at this movement, look at this physical construct, look at the situation this movement puts my body in” and the challenge comes in investing so purely and honestly in that physical situation that it then becomes something that is a full expression of me without an active imposition of myself onto the movement.

What song or piece of music makes you want to get up and dance?

YMCA.

Just kidding.

If you weren’t a dancer, what do you think you would do with your life?

Well, I am continually humbled and awed by the knowledge that I have a relationship with my career that is guided by passion first and foremost. And although I’m not honestly sure what specifically my life might be like, or will be like, when for whatever reason my relationship with dance isn’t what it is now, my hope and goal is that my relationship with passion will still be the guiding force. So that whatever the next step is, it is a step guided by passion and because of that it will be a step that brings as many gifts and challenges and adventures as dance has brought to my life as it exists right now.

What are some of your interests other than dance?

Well, I really love words. And languages. And the inherent complexities and rules there. I also love cooking (although I am fully aware that love does not automatically connotate talent!) and I enjoy travel. Honestly, it’s a pretty open book and I’m not sure what world will crack open for me after dance but I am excited to learn it…whatever it is.

How did you first get into dancing?

I first began dancing as a young child at home. My first dance memories are of dancing with my father to music from the jukebox in the family room. As I entered school I began gymnastics and eventually began taking ballet. My study of ballet was inspired by attending an end of the year performance of a family friend and begging my mother to take at that particular studio.

What is your training background?

I began my dance training at the Center of Ballet and Dance Arts in Syracuse, NY under the direction of Deborah Boughton. Here I studied ballet, jazz and modern dance. For college, I went on to study at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA under the direction of Donna Faye Burchfield, and earned both my undergraduate and master’s degrees. During this time I also studied extensively at the American Dance Festival (ADF). My time at Hollins truly shaped who I am as a dancer and introduced me to a world that would become my community. It was actually at Hollins that I first met Shen Wei when he performed a solo work on campus, taught a masterclass and spoke to our Dance History class.

What drew you to Shen Wei’s work? What makes him unique to work with as a choreographer?

I first worked with Shen Wei as a student at ADF in the summer of 2000 for the creation of Near the Terrace, which was followed by the founding of Shen Wei Dance Arts. What excited me then about Shen Wei’s work, and has continued to do so over the years, is the in-depth movement research involved to create a new world with each piece. The studio functions as a movement laboratory with the dancers researching ideas presented by Shen Wei. As dancers for SWDA we often create phrases Shen Wei will shape and direct. Much of the movement material is generated by the dancers and in many works, when a dancer leaves the company, a new dancer will create his or her own material within the structure of the piece rather than learn the exact choreography of the dancer they may be replacing. I feel this kind of ‘play’ within the work keeps the dance fresh.

If you weren’t a dancer, what do you think you would do with your life?

If I weren’t a dancer, I believe my path in life would be connected to the arts.

What would be your advice to young dancers who want to dance for Shen Wei someday?

My advice to young dancers is to keep an open mind and body to all possibilities. Impossible is nothing. Embrace the unlimited potential within yourself. Allow space for new ways of moving, thinking and seeing.

Peridance Workshop Flyer

Technique and Repertory Workshop

August 2 – 6, 2010

Technique : 3:00 – 4:30
Repertory : 4:30 – 6:00

Location : Peridance 126 East 13th Street, New York, NY

Click Here to Register at Peridance

Apprentice Audition

August 7th, 2010

1:00 – 3:00

To Register, Please email your Photo and Resume to : audition@shenweidancearts.org

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