It started before it started: as we entered the Schnitzer on Wednesday eve, the dancers of Shen Wei Dance Arts were seated around the edges of the stage with giant bowls of blue shredded plastic (guessing based on sprinkling, sonic, and sticking-to-clothes-static-cling properties), sprinkling handfuls onto the massive blue and white mandala "sand" painting that covered the stage save a three foot perimeter. In stocking feet several suddenly slid backward into the mandala. To the sounds of a female chant and more enchantingly in silence (so we could hear the swooshing of foot across floor) the dozen dancers moved as perfectly mirrored parts of a whole throughout "Re- (Part I)." They did not pair, did not acknowledge one another, but flocked in chorus or moved alone through eloquent collapse and turn embellished by stroke of the foot or sweep of arm carving a painterly stroke through now mixed blue/white of the mandala redrawing it over and over again.
It was a dance that was both light and grounded. Swiftly the dancers turned and slid, but only late in the second piece did a dancer leave the floor in a lift. An almost-leap always trailed a dragging foot drawing in its wake.
I’ve never seen dancers move in multiple so successfully, with such lack of variation in movement from body to body that one could focus on the whole without distraction by one or another. It was truly remarkable.
The second piece, "Re- (Part III)," was shaped by a movement motif of parallel queues of dancers walking forward and back as in any regimented environment. When two stopped and leaned sideways, shoulder-to-shoulder against each other, flying buttresses to nothing, we too were arrested. When within the queues walking backward and forward, the individual broke out to move otherwise, he or she never actually broke the confines of the queue, rolling, flailing, but held place in line. And the soundtrack, with its ominous momentum touched by the flighty strings narrated too well the story of forced conformity and those who struggle with/within its discontents.
As my companion said at the end of the performance, borrowing a Facebook-ism, "There isn’t a ‘like’ button big enough." We can only hope that as White Bird’s Paul King and Walter Jaffe have brought Shen Wei to Portland before, they will do so again.