Shen Wei, contributor to the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies, to be in residence at SU
Kelly Homan Rodoski
In 1995, 26-year-old dancer and choreographer Shen Wei emigrated from his native China to the United States. That year, he presented his work at the prestigious American Dance Festival; an international audience immediately took notice. More recently, Shen’s breathtaking work was prominently displayed on the international stage last summer as he was commissioned as a principal choreographer of the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
Shen has been hailed by The Washington Post as “one of the great artists of our time,” and Shen Wei Dance Arts, the company he founded in 2000, has become one of the premier dance ensembles in the world. This month, the company begins a residency at Syracuse University as it creates and rehearses its new work, the third piece in a triptych entitled “Re-.” The work complements two of the company’s previous pieces, and the three pieces draw from the personal experiences and reactions of Shen from his time in and study of Tibet, Cambodia and China’s Silk Road. The work developed here during the residency will be debuted at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., in June.
Shen and the company will be in residence at SU from Feb. 24-March 16 and will return to Syracuse in September. Public performances of the work developed at SU are scheduled for Sept. 24 and 25 at the Landmark Theatre (the Sept. 24 performance is designated as the University’s Milton First-Year Lecture). The sponsors of the residency include Shen Wei Dance Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Office of the Chancellor and the University Performing Arts Presenter.
“As a dance company creating new work in today’s environment, it is nearly impossible-and absolutely crucial-to find support of the kind offered by this residency. As a creator, it is invaluable to be able to focus in, without distraction, on the creation of a new work, in a community that supports, understands and cultivates that process,” says Shen. “These three weeks at Syracuse University are an ideal expression of that relationship. In the various activities we have planned to create opportunities for our company to interface with the Syracuse community, I hope to share some of this process, as well as continue to find inspiration for the development of this new work. We are profoundly grateful and honored to be working in this community and look forward to establishing what we hope is a long-term collaboration with not just the University, but the community at large.”
The University and greater Syracuse communities will have an opportunity to engage with the artist during “A Conversation with Shen Wei,” part of the University Lectures series, on Thursday, Feb. 26, at 7:30 p.m. in Hendricks Chapel. The event is free and open to the public, and reduced-rate parking will be available in the Irving Garage. A sign language interpreter will be available for the lecture; CART will be provided if possible.
In the conversation, moderated by former New York Times Chief Dance Critic Anna Kisselgoff, Shen will share his personal story, including reflections on growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution; the creative process and development; the philosophy behind his work; reflections on the Olympic opening ceremonies; and the development of his new work.
“I have had the honor to get to know Shen Wei and his remarkable company over the past six months as we have been planning for this residency. They represent a very special opportunity for us-the University community side by side with the greater Syracuse community-to witness the creative process in action,” says Carole Brzozowski, SU’s performing arts presenter. “Our goal is to reach as many people as possible during this time to witness an important event in the history of Syracuse as a new work is created in the laboratory that is our community. Shen Wei has an important story to tell through his life experiences. We’re especially grateful to the New York State Council on the Arts, which, during these difficult economic times, continues to support these residencies.
“The return of Shen Wei Dance Arts next September will be our opportunity to see the entire triptych as it continues to develop beyond this residency,” says Brzozowski. “My hope is that this is the beginning of a fertile relationship with the company that will continue to make art through dance that is both aesthetically beautiful and socially important.”
During the residency, Shen and the company will be engaged in numerous activities, including workshops and master classes with students from several University departments, from the Syracuse City School District, and from local dance schools and programs, including the Kuumba Dancers, a program of the South Side Initiative. The residency has inspired an Honors Program course, “Performing Culture on a Global Stage,” developed by Carol Babiracki, fine arts associate professor. Shen will also take part in discussions on cultural diplomacy with students in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
The Shen residency is SU’s first extended dance residency, and Shen Wei Dance Arts will be creating this prototype with SU for future extended performing arts residencies.
“The Shen Wei residency promises to be a terrific opportunity to experience the many intersections between scholarship and the arts,” says Jan Cohen-Cruz, director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, which is based at SU. “The experience of world-class art itself, the link to the discourse of cultural diplomacy, the opportunity for young dancers to see how a fine company works-these and other opportunities make the residency a fine event indeed.”
Shen and the company will conclude their Syracuse residency with an invitation-only lecture-demonstration at H.W. Smith Elementary School in Syracuse on March 16.
A native of the Hunan Province in China, Shen is the son of Chinese opera professionals. He left home at age 9 to study opera and subsequently won a position with the Hunan State Xian Opera Company, with which he performed leading roles from 1984-89. As a dancer and choreographer, he became a founding member of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, the first of its kind in China.
After moving to the United States and his debut at the American Dance Festival, Shen produced work seen on stages around the world. He formed Shen Wei Dance Arts in July 2000 and serves as the company’s artistic director.
Since its inception, Shen Wei Dance Arts has toured extensively on five continents. The company has had repeated engagements at the American Dance Festival, the Lincoln Center Festival, the Venice Biennale, the Los Angeles Music Center, Het Muziektheater and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Shen has created more than 10 new works, and for each work he creates the set design, costume and makeup designs.
Shen Wei Dance Arts recently finished a residency with Duke University and has a five-year residency with the Kennedy Center. The company is scheduled to perform on three continents this year.
Shen received a MacArthur Foundation grant in 2007 and is a United States Artists/Prudential Fellow. He has received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and the American Dance Festival’s Ben Sommer Fellowship, among numerous other awards and commissions.
Independent of the company, Shen is a painter, designer and photographer.