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Shen Wei and his eponymous dance company take the streets of Manhattan today with guerrilla performances hitting Times Square, Union Square and around Grand Central Terminal.
Then it’s on to other iconic locations around Manhattan on Friday, and around the world in the months ahead, in a buildup to an intense, experimental year for Wei, the choreographer behind the epic opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Wei has been conducting “salon” presentations at the Park Avenue Armory, providing opportunities to witness close-up the creative process and meet the members of Shen Wei Dance Arts, which is based in New York. On Nov. 3, Wei will be honored at the Asian American Arts Alliance gala; he’s choreographing Rossini’s “Moïse et Pharaon” for the Teatro Dell’Opera di Roma; has a performance at the Berliner Festival in December, and is creating work for the armory’s inaugural artistic season in December 2011.
All things Shen Wei — his dance works, paintings, photography and creative process — are being documented by filmmaker-photographer Mark Ledzian to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the dance company. It could also reveal what few know about Wei, that there’s a modest, personal style belying the bold, avant-garde professional motif. “I am basically a shy person. I try to learn not to be shy,” Wei said in an interview after Monday’s salon.
Nevertheless, the 43-year-old Chinese choreographer opens up on the subject of fashion, which is natural since he, unlike other choreographers, designs the costumes for his performances, often in brilliant hues, hand-sprayed prints and unorthodox materials. “It’s unusual. I’m a painter, a photographer. I do everything by myself. It’s easier. I love fashion, especially designers who have really clear visions and make designs not simply to sell, because fashion should be leading the culture, not trying to fit with what people like. I like fashion that’s related to what’s going on in the moment, the current culture, how humans feel.”
Asked to name his favorite designers, he says without hesitation, “Thom Browne — he has a vision. He’s not for everybody. Maybe he’s not a bestseller, but I like people with a really strong fashion point of view.”
He shops If, a boutique in SoHo known for deconstructionist luxury and avant-garde labels like Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester. Besides Browne, Wei favors Issey Miyake and John Varvatos, and when outfitting himself, there’s no hint of pretension. “I tend to avoid much color. I think I’m too old. I don’t want to be the spotlight outside my work. I wear black, navy, brown and gray, which is my favorite. It fits Asian people’s skins.”
Embracing fashion in different ways in the future seems inevitable, considering Wei’s experimental bent, openness to other realms such as the Internet, exploring how words or touch can trigger feelings that translate to movements “to feel the moment,” and performance space transcending traditional theater. “I’m looking at the randomness of things, connecting things not necessarily obviously connected,” he said. “If I get close to the audience, you can feel my energy. In a theater, it gets a little lost.”