Ever participated in an extraordinary event and immediately wanted to share it with everyone you know? This was my reaction to a recent contemporary dance performance, Dialogue, by local choreographer Wen Wei Wang, presented at Vancouver’s Dance Centre, May 25-27, 2017. I saw this performance several weeks ago and still have not lost the visual memory of that experience. I am compelled to share in words what I saw and felt on that evening in May, if only to persuade others to aspire to attend future works by this talented choreographer.
Dance is an exceedingly ephemeral form of communication; at its’ very best, providing and provoking an assault on our senses, emotions and beliefs; challenging our ability to retain the messages received. In Dialogue, Wen Wei Wang has successfully risen to this challenge, providing the audience with an experience which was both emotional and thought provoking through an evolving set of individual stories of men of different cultures and backgrounds, performed by an ensemble of six highly talented male dancers. Wang told writer Shawn Connor (Vancouver Sun, May 24, 2017) that his goal in Dialogue was “to create a piece about our different cultures and different backgrounds and how we communicate and…..see each other” and to try “to find how we use our bodies to communicate, tell us something, feel something”.
Dialogue opens with ‘in your face’ club bravado; the dancers creating a form of hip hop braille; conveying the sense of dissonance with one another, sexual energy on controlled display, electronic background soundtrack by Ben Frost reinforcing our collective feeling of unease and disconnection. Just when we were sufficiently on edge, the performances shifted to the very personal including the vulnerable and powerful writhing contortions of Nicholas Lydiate, exposing his inner demons, clad only in underwear and shades and the equally mesmerizing and provocative presence of Alex Tam, the cheeky bravado of his campy blurring of sexuality strutted repeatedly before his peers in a manner which engendered both envy and the desire to console and protect.
The stories told in Dialogue were an overlay of individual experiences juxtaposed on the larger community; each dancer sharing with the audience some aspect of his identity and background. Arash Khakpour conveyed his journey of displacement to inclusion, highlighted by themes of racism and exclusion, using the device of repeatedly pulling his T-shirt over his face and head. As the conversations of movements continued and trust and caring between the dancers revealed, his shirt was pulled back into place by the others and energy shifted to bringing the excluded into a circle of solidarity. The display of physical power, vulnerabiltiy and inter reliance portrayed by the dancers each time they came together in a circular movement of unity was particularly effective. Each of the dancers was masterful in their individual artistry. The communication without words between them was almost audible, truly dance as a transcendent form of expression. Wen Wei took the audience on an intimate journey into the experiences of these six men. It felt like something very private and personal; extraordinarily generous to have been invited to participate. Leonard Cohen’s “Dance me to the End of Time” ushered us back into the here and now, desperate not to forget a single move. This performance was an exemplary example of dance as a communication form, the body moving through time and space, sharing with us intimate hopes and fears and challenging us to remember.