Re-Triptych by Shen Wei Dance Arts – which is based in New York City and led by the Chinese choreographer who gives the company its name – seemed destined to encapsulate the West-meets-East ethos of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. Ironically, however, rather than being an image of successful cultural cross-fertilisation, the work is a frustratingly uneven mélange.
The opening piece (which is performed to Tibetan chants), in which the dancers move like trees blowing in a gentle breeze, seems like a whimsical parody of Buddhism. By contrast, the final part has varied energies; the occasional violence of David Lang’s music crashes through the calming green in which it is danced. Although exhilarating at times, it never really coheres.
The abilities of Wei’s talented company are most apparent in Part II, which closes with a truly stunning choreography set to John Tavener’s Tears of the Angels. It is rare to see human nakedness employed with such subtlety, beauty and resonating spirituality. If only the entire show carried such power.
One expected similar power from Drought and Rain, Franco-Vietnamese choreographer Ea Sola’s 2011 recreation of her 1995 meditation upon the experience of war in Vietnam. The piece is performed almost entirely by older Vietnamese women, who carry both the traditional movement and song of their homeland and the memory of the war with the United States.
The minimal, synchronised movement of the performers is affectingly hypnotic at times; although it has a tendency to lose its shape (whether by accident or misguided design). The metaphors of pain and resilience which are contained within the songs of nature clash uncomfortably with heavy-handed imagery (such as cardboard cut-out ancestors).
Black and white photographs of the dead from Vietnam’s wars with both the French and the Americans are juxtaposed with the presence of a young woman in blue jeans (who is a striking connection to modern day Vietnam). However, given both the subject matter and Sola’s highly original approach to it, one can’t help but feel that this piece should make one’s soul shudder more than it does.
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on September 5, 2011
© Mark Brown