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Thirteen ways of looking at Shen Wei

Glare of moonlit snow—

crows bend, stab through frozen crust.

Somewhere, a cello.

A dancer slides onto canvas, propelling herself diagonally across the stage in arcs and circles, an ecstasy of release from the structured restraint that has held her thus far.

The lights rise. One by one, her fellows revolve through continuous spirals, rolling up onto their haunches and windmilling their limbs in slow sweeps. A few wield paint-drenched socks like fists, staining the canvas with long skeins of black pigment.

In person, Shen Wei is both self-focused and absent, a diffident celebrity in the tiny bubble of dance. Here, too, he wears fame awkwardly in a pair of spotlighted solos that fracture choreographic thrust like an operatic aria. He has described these moments as page turners, but they function more like blanks, conspicuous in their bareness.

So much languor, so little time.

Like the animated Siamese cats in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, the dancers wend themselves under and around each other, arching their backs in sinuous, supple lines. Sock-clad extremities descend carefully, dainty black paws. No sly creatures of gratification these but somehow neutered, devoid of sensuality as they crisscross the giant canvas with mincing steps, arms limp and static when disconnected from the floor.

Shen Wei’s landscape is wintery, his music pensive, pregnant with inexpressibles. My belly is empty.

Why did it have to be red paint?


A flexed toe nudges a bent knee off the floor.

A palm tilts a forehead.

Chairs creak, a chorus of coughs shivers through the audience.

Shen Wei, Shen Wei,

have you had a hard day?

A boy can’t live on all angst and no play.

As dancer after dancer rolls over still-wet lines of paint, their matte leotards, gray and black, grow slick. They rise and fall with tense, whipping angularity, driven by jagged piano notes. Once-coiffed hair separates into spiky clumps and they run, slicing the air with stiff-jointed arms like sea birds desperate to escape a widening oil slick. 

You say individuality. I see marionettes, wan faces like frozen dough.

Paint smears canvas—

Ink curling through a still glass of water. 

Editor’s Note: As part of this year’s Lincoln Center Festival, Chinese-born, New York-based choreographer and visual artist Shen Wei presented “Connect Transfer,” a new work that mixes dance and painting. In the same spirit of artistic amalgamation, Claudia La Rocco merges criticism and poetry, offering a perspective on both the nature of criticism and the ways in which one can approach dance.

Claudia La Rocco lives in Brooklyn. She can be reached at


Claudia La Rocco

CLAUDIA LA ROCCO writes about performance for the New York Times and is the founder of, which won a 2011 Arts Writers Grant. She is a member of Off The Park press, where she is editing an anthology of poems by painters. She is on the faculty of the School of Visual Art's graduate program in Art Criticism and Writing.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2004

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