April 12, 2012
By Manuel Mendoza
Shen Wei is not one to color between the lines. In fact, the New York choreographer is splattering gallons of paint all over the stage of Southern Methodist University’s Bob Hope Theatre this week in the premiere of his collaboration with SMU arts majors.
By the time the goofily experimental The New You was over opening night, nine dancers and two actors in off-white jumpsuits — human canvases — had soaked themselves, face to toe, in multihued wetness. Two musicians, a computing student handling projections and Shen himself, who came out at the end of the SMU Spring Dance Concert to take a bow, somehow managed to remain unsoiled.
A self-referential work about identity, The New You turned out to be more of a lecture-demonstration than a fully realized dance-theater-art piece. A good deal of it was taken up with acting students Jeffrey Colangelo and Caitlin Galloway explaining the complex numerical system designed by Shen to guide the choreography and music.
Math and humor don’t necessarily go together, but Shen found the nexus by taking his formulations to absurd levels and then embodying them viscerally. The peak came when the dancers squirted one another with paint, then slid down a two-story plywood ramp, literally coloring the stage with their bodies.
SMU professor Danny Buraczeski’s rhythmically rich Song Awakened, which preceded The New You, was almost its exact opposite: clearly articulated, pure dance, full of melancholy feeling and sensual island charm.
Song Awakened interprets both the mournful and upbeat songs of the late Creole-Portuguese chanteuse Cesária Évora, which along with Susan A. White’s ethereal lighting design created a mood of languid seduction.
Dressed in flowing tie-dye, the dancers appeared to glide through well-defined, smooth turns, cutting the air with their arms into pleasing, circular shapes. Principal dancers Albert Drake and Katrina Kutsch, first seen in silhouette under a crescent moon, returned again and again to perform subtly romantic duets.
The concert opened with the premiere of SMU artist-in-residence Adam Hougland’s Five Preludes, set to Rachmaninoff. The smartly attired female corps was mostly in sync for Hougland’s contemporary take on neoclassical ballet, though timing in the unison dances was slightly off on occasion.
A pair of pas de deux, built around pursuits and retreats, showed off the choreographer’s inventiveness, particularly when Harry Feril created a dance with his back.