Wen Wei Dance Company (Canada)
26 - 27 May, 10 p.m.
Teatro Piccolo Arsenale
Unbound (2006, 65’) [European premiere]
choreography by Wen Wei Wang
original music by Giorgio Magnanensi
lighting James Proudfoot
costumes Kate Burrows
stage sets James Proudfoot and Wen Wei Wang
with Scott Augustine, Karissa Barry, Jung-Ah Chung, Josh Martin, David Raymond, Tiffany Tregarthen
Although it is from China that the most unexpected new features of contemporary choreography are emerging at the start of the new millennium, it is in the West that these talents often find a favourable climate in which to develop, bringing new energy to choreographic creativity thanks to the highly original cultural background. Such is the case with Wen Wei Wang, who trained in China but has established a reputation in Canada, where he arrived at the age of 26, founded his own company, and in which country he still lives and works today. For the first time in Italy and at the Biennale di Venezia, Wen Wei Wang will be bringing one of his most recent creations, Unbound, a piece commissioned by the Can Dance Network in 2006, and which is here given its European premiere.
Wen Wei takes as his subject the exclusively Chinese tradition of the “lotus foot” for Unbound, linking an ancient custom to our world today to explore the relationships between genres. The result is a powerful fresco on the complexity and fear that beauty, power and sexuality provoke.
Quintessence of Oriental eroticism and also symbol of the submission of women, the tradition of the “lotus foot” or “golden lily”, in which the feet of children were bound from a young age, compromising their ability to walk but offering them the possibility of a social redemption via an important marriage, dates from the 10th century and was officially banned only in 1911, when the Republic of China effected a cultural revolution and declared the equality of the sexes, forcing women with bound feet to sing paeans to the “liberation of feet”. In reality, the practice, so entrenched in the male imagination and female custom, took a long time to vanish; the last factory of “lotus shoes” only closed in 2001, and Wen Wei was able to have direct experience of the practice. Wen Wei saw the deformed feet of his grandmother and listened to his mother who, as a child, amid screams and tears, escaped the torture of the bound feet. And yet, it remains a forbidden subject, almost a taboo. “That people should be ashamed and refuse to speak of it is part of our history”, declares the choreographer, “and this is why I want people to remember. And yet, Unbound does not concern only Chinese history, but everyone: our emotions, our sexuality”, he adds.
There are still some examples of the legendary “lotus shoes”, a fetish object for collectors or for museum displays like the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, where they were seen by Wen Wei. After the exhibition, he began to reflect on how men see women, and concluded that it is not only a matter of sexual attraction but also of control. “In some way, in life we are all bound and want to free ourselves of these bonds”. So the shoes become a symbol of pleasure and of pain, of attraction and submission, and the show reflects this duplicity, marking the passage from constriction (bound) to liberation (unbound).
The use of these tiny shoes with tall heels, made of brocade and refined floral motifs, which Wen Wei acquired from the Chinese opera, opens new possibilities for the movement of the dancers, stresses Wen Wei: the legs are longer and the thighs, thrust forward together with the hips, change the alignment of the body and its balance. Walking on these high shoes causes a harmonious undulation of the body, but complicates the dance steps. As a consequence, the choreography also changes.
Enveloped in the light from Chinese red lanterns alternating with streams of white light, the six dancers of the company, men and women and including Wen Wei himself, perform an acrobatic dance that lays bare the relationship between the sexes.
Wen Wei (Xian - Cina, 1965) - Born in the industrial city of Xian in north-western China, the story of Wen Wei is similar to that of many Chinese born shortly before the Cultural Revolution. His apprenticeship took place within the propaganda activities of the Communist regime; namely, within the setting of popular Chinese dance at the Red Guards’ School from the age of six. When the Cultural Revolution ended and the regional dance companies began to proliferate, Wen Wei joined the regional school of Langzhou, where he remained four years studying ballet, together with classical and popular Chinese dance and other popular international dances, such as Spanish, Russian and Japanese. After graduating, he joined the Langzhou company and was there until 1987, when he won a prize for a choreography and entered the Beijing People’s Army Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1991, at the age of 26, a turning point came in his career: Wen Wei went to Vancouver for a summer course at the Simon Fraser University, and he decided to remain, joining the Judith Marcuse modern dance company and, subsequently one of Canada’s leading companies, Ballet British Columbia, with which he remained seven years. In 2000, he won the Clifford E. Lee prize – a prize dedicated exclusively to Canadian dance – for the choreography of a duet in pure classical style, Snow, and left Ballet BC to establish a creative independence that would lead him in 2003 to found the contemporary dance company bearing his name, Wen Wei Dance. For his company, he has created some acclaimed works such as Cock-Pit, Three Sixty Five, Tao (The Way). In 2006, he received the Isadora Award for choreography, an international prize created in 1986 in the Bay Area of San Francisco.