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Pure Abstract: Will Choreographer Shen Wei’s SMU Program Descend Into Pretension?


The following story ran D Magazine's Front Row arts blog on Feb. 21, 2012. Shen Wei is the recipient of the Meadows Prize, awarded annually by SMU's Meadows School of the Arts.

February 27, 2012

By Danna Reubin

“Shen Wei is a visual artist as well as a choreographer, and all his dances take moving design as their subject” –Deborah Jowitt, The Village Voice, September 2006

Early on a Thursday evening New York-based choreographer Shen Wei, winner of this year’s Southern Methodist University Meadows Prize, met with a small group of local dance critics to discuss the three week residency he has just completed at the university. We gathered around a table in a large conference room just outside the Hammon Arts Library. Shen Wei, a delicate man with fine bones and a small unassuming voice to match quietly began telling us about his work. The discussion was something of an adventure into the realm of purely distilled ideas about movement, self-reflection and emotion, and a kind of kinesthetic conceptual art.

For his Meadows Prize project, Shen Wei carefully selected an ensemble cast from across the Meadows Schoolof the Arts. Included in the project are: 9 female dancers, 2 theater students, 2 music students, 2 visual arts students, 2 film students and a computer science student. Over a three week period, juggling academic, rehearsal and personal schedules, the cast came together an average of four hours a day six days a week to explore, to build, and to create under his guiding influence.

The process began with a simple task. Each cast member was asked to sign their name on a paper. (According to Shen Wei, the act of signing ones name has a flow unique to the author.) He then asked the dancers to mimic the flow of each signature, to take notice of the individuality, to try to deconstruct the personalities through analyzing unique movement choices as they write their name across the paper. From this starting point a series of self-reflective exercises took shape encouraging self discovery through movement and art. Shen Wei calls this his “system.”...