02 September, 2011

Review: Shen Wei Dance Arts Re- (I, II, III) / The Triptych

Photo: Eoin Carey
By Emma Caldwell
Shen Wei’s Re-Triptych takes the audience on a journey; throughout the course of the three part piece we are taken from snowy-topped Tibetan Himalayas, to a humid Cambodian jungle, finally ending up in a dizzying, digital modern-day China.
Re- (I) opens with the dancers sat in a circle around a huge confetti mandala, the sky backdrop gives the impression they are sat atop a mountain. Tibetan chanting accompanies their movements - the confetti sprays up and covers their bodies like snow-flakes as they swoop and soar like birds. The lights are clear and bright evoking the cool, crisp atmosphere of a winter’s day, and then becoming warm as though the sun is setting. This cycle continues and it feels as though we are witnessing the passing of many days. The pace slows and the lights come down, we have left Tibet.
As the lights come up on Re- (II) we see the dancers in a line, they start to move, seemingly chaotically, but all idiosyncratically connected. The soundtrack of Cambodian folk music soon gives way to the sounds of the jungle and the chirping and squawking of unknown creatures pierces my ears. The dancers’ movements become more synchronised and graceful; one breaks away from the rest of the group and staggers almost drunkenly. A voice speaking in an alien language is heard over the environmental sounds, I cannot understand what it says and I feel a sense of unease.
As the already low lights dim further, a naked body enters the stage. The background is now a withered tree root and the contorted figure glistens in the light mimicking this image and writhing and twisting. The dancer takes centre stage and rests in a bright white spotlight. String music fills the auditorium and lifts our spirits. More naked dancers appear and it is both a celebration and an exploration of the human form. The sight is arresting and beautiful, but also unsettling – the dancers’ faces are obscured by shadows and it is hard to tell where one body ends and another begins. The piece ends as the dancers slow to a stop, four spotlights bathe four bodies in blue light and a deep note rings out. The theatre feels dark and eerie, I feel unsettled.
The third and final part, Re- (III), turned out to be the most enjoyable for me. This piece attempts to explore China’s vast and rich cultural history, whilst looking forward to the place it holds in the digital age. It starts with the dancers marching back and forth across the stage, their feet pounding out a satisfying rhythm. As in the previous part a dancer breaks away from the group and gracefully sways and lurches to quirky string sounds.
The music, by Pulitzer Prizewinner David Lang, is both discordant and rhythmic, exploding with ever more complexity as the piece progresses. The pace slows then quickens up again, the dancers are now dressed in what looks like 80s workout gear - I like it! They are all seemingly dancing to their own song, electronic sounds are introduced to the music and the Playhouse feels alive with the energy on stage. The dancers contort themselves into one final shape as the music fades into the sound of a train moving along the tracks. This ending is poignant, Shen Wei has taken us on a journey, but it has not come to an end; we are all still travelling, moving forward into the future.
Re- (I, II, III) / The Triptych
Thursday 1 – Saturday 3 September
The Edinburgh Playhouse
Book now at eif.co.uk/retriptych
The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

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