Wen Wei Wang’s “Dialogue”: Inhabiting the Masculine

One of the most exciting aspects of small dance performances for me is the opportunity to be physically close to the performers. I’m pulled further into the experience and it allows me a tiny insight into what the dancers may feel, physically and emotionally, as they perform.  In seeing Wen Wei Wang’s Dialogue I was offered a chance to briefly inhabit the six male worlds of each of these excellent dancers.  I decided before the performance not to try to identify Wang’s meaning of each segment within Dialogue and instead to pay attention to the emotions the performances evoked in me. This was difficult. However, I was not disappointed by the result as Wang’s piece began with an anxiety-inducing, scratching, grating electronic sound running in the background, instantly creating a sense of discomfort.  Emotion evoked, powerfully.  Dialogue begins with six men moving their chairs to centre stage near one another, clearly feeling detached, suspicious and defensive.  Their uneasiness is obvious.  Slowly, they begin communicating through hand gestures and exchange.  From here the performance often focuses on singular dancers with supportive dancers in each scene.  A standout for me was the performance of Nicholas Lydiate, a versatile, physically hyper-strong dancer originally from England and raised in the Canadian Prairies.  Lydiate’s entry into one scene wearing only his underwear, moving erratically almost as if battling the devastating effects of a neurological disorder was both frightening and confusing.  At the same time it was fascinating as seeing the human body move in this way is not something we often experience.  Later, we see Lydiate again with dancer Arash Khakpour in a scene depicting power and struggle between the two men.  Khakpour repeatedly holds his open hand against Lydiate’s face, directing and moving him. Lydiate is weak and powerless, in one sense evoking the helplessness of addiction.  Khakpour also shares a scene with dancer Ralph Escamillan in which Escamillan is both engaged with and repeatedly rejected by Khakpour, who retreats at will to his chair and pulls his black shirt over his face, rejecting Escamillan’s love. Later the group of dancers confront Khakpour, his face still covered, and force it off of him in a segment that might seem either aggressive or compassionate or both. This theme of coming together or pulling apart runs throughout Dialogue.  This relationship is again shown in a segment with the athletically gifted dancer Tyler Layton-Olson at stage right, convulsively moving his prone body toward the audience while struggling to remove a shirt causing him extreme discomfort. Dancer Andrew Haydock then gently takes the discarded shirt and puts it on casually in what I saw as a gentle, kind moment of taking on the burdens of another.

What intrigued me most about Dialogue however was Wang’s ability to convey a sense of what it might be like to feel the emotions and physicality of a man versus my own as a woman.  This was new to me as I find it is my tendency to minimize gender differences.  Whether this was Wang’s intention is irrelevant as this is simply my own interpretation and experience. There are movements and segments conveying loneliness, rejection, male sexuality, madness and fear in Dialogue.  Wang seems to portray an aggressive, frustrated, erratic energy through his dancers but also conveys moments of gentleness, humour and compassion.  I saw Dialogue twice, first as an emotional experience and second to try to understand this experience.  It is a joy to watch the dancers perform as their body awareness is very high and integrated into their being.  For me, Wang’s Dialogue was a triumph because he showed me something new in inhabiting the masculine and his choreography was successful in portraying a wide variety of complex emotions.

-Gayle Thom

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One thought on “Wen Wei Wang’s “Dialogue”: Inhabiting the Masculine

  1. Hi Gayle,

    I too felt that Wen Wei Wang’s performance of Dialogue was very successful and enjoyable. Unlike you I didn’t anticipate this performance with enthusiasm, I had almost an apathy or ambivalence to seeing it. I hadn’t seen much dance in the past and what I had seen had not really interested me. A major reason for this is because I’m very focused in on music and as crazy as this sounds the music had seemed secondary to any dance performances I’d seen in the past, as if you could turn it off and the dancers would go about forcing their routines onto the silence just as they had been doing to the music while it was on. I knew that this was probably not representative of all dance, and that I needed to cast my rigidity aside. I too decided to throw away preconceptions and to experience the performance for what it was, and as you say to observe what it “evoked” in me.

    I was blown away by how wrong I had been about what I thought dance was.

    Within the arts there are messages, or a kinds of understanding that cannot be decoded straightforwardly as the messages remain in, and are understood in the abstract. I felt completely engaged in Dialogue’s surreal space and story. Though I had no dance vocabulary to draw from I found a strong sculptural quality to the performance that allowed me to me to access and interpret the transmissions consisting of landscapes of sound, poetry of movement, and the physicality of the bodies. All the elements came together to create a synthesis that drew me into the stories and memories of the dancers, and into a sneak peek into the essence of masculinity. One of my favourite visuals of the show was the shadows of the performers reflecting on the wall creating ephemeral shapes that mirrored yet distorted the physical movements of the dancers. There were many powerful scenes, but one that stood out in particular for me held shades of David Lynch; with a single heeled statuesque leg being distorted and dislocated by fog and blue strobe. I think it was paired with Leonard Cohen’s sophisticated drone, though now I’m wondering if I’m mashing up scenes with similar evocations together? I have to admit also the Lynch reference point may be coming from my own insertion into the performance as my mind at the time was occupied with the anticipation of the new Twin Peaks series.

    I absolutely felt the emotions that you noted such as “aggressive, frustrated, erratic energies” and “gentleness, humour and compassion”. I appreciated the humorous sections, especially the scene with rotating hats and props. The musical choices felt like they belonged to each scene, and the dancers took the music into them. The only part where I lost my engulfment in the performance was when each dancer took a moment to speak. Though real, human voices can be a powerful tool for storytelling I felt they jarred with the alternate reality that was being manifested in the rest of the performance.
    Overall this show was highly successful as both a realised work, and as the gateway that inspired my opening up to dance as an art form! Also I appreciate your review of this performance too as it inspired me to write about it and respond to your experience.

    -Andrea Terpenkas

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