Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, April 16, 1999

Dances We Dance
"The Wave" is full of symbolism.

‘Wave’ captures
flow of life

By Lori Tighe


What's up with the guy wearing a fish helmet, the headless guy and faceless woman at right?

"It's what I think about life," says choreographer Shen Wei, who presents the world premiere of "The Wave of the Empty Lake" at 8 p.m. tonight at Leeward Community College Theatre.

The modern dance production tells the story of a woman who returns to the beautiful lake of her childhood to find it gone.

The "Wave" in the title is the memory she uses to bring the water, clouds and fish back to life. It is the story of China's struggle today to embrace the future while deciding what to keep of its past.

It is also the story of 30-year-old Wei, a founding member of China's first modern dance company.

Raised in Hunan, China, by parents who worked in opera, Wei began training for the stage at age 9.

To the irritation of his parents, he switched to oil painting, inspired by watching his father sketch costumes. He horrified them further when, at 17, he leaped into the modern dance world after he saw a production by a Canadian touring company.

"I said, 'Oh my God! I think I want to do this.' They're doing something about our life right now, not about traditional old things," Wei said.

He was accepted by the prestigious Guangdong Dance Academy, which taught a comprehensive array of Chinese dances from the past millennium. In 1991, Wei helped launch the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, beginning a new art form in China.

"It was very difficult for my parents to say yes to dance. They were very concerned about my stability," he said. "They knew I would have to start from zero."

They didn't have long to worry. After winning a scholarship to the Nikolais/Lois Dance Lab, Wei moved to New York and became noticed. His work has been commissioned by the American Dance Festival and the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble among many, and performed at dance festivals throughout the world.

Wei returned to his hometown in Hunan about 10 years later. His old opera school was gone; his old friends dispersed to the winds.

"It made me so sad. I always think about that," he said. "The only thing that stays with you is the memories."

Wei is one of a number of artists invited to Hawaii by world renowned modern dancers, Fritz Ludin and Betty Jones, who make their home here.

"Shen uses white masks for the face because he wants to express the emotions and feelings of the vessel," Ludin said. "Your whole life is engrained in your body."

Jones, wearing the silver dress in the photo above, represents the experience and feelings of the woman who returns to the dry lake. Her silver tray is the lake. Wei, in the white flowing robe symbolizes the destiny of the woman, and Ludin, in the black suit signifies the woman's past.

The fish head means life. When the lake dries out, Ludin becomes the fish struggling for survival. The headless man, played by Wei, represents memories of clouds that floated above the lake.

Symbolism aside, how do theysee through those masks?

"Darkly," Jones said. "It's very difficult. It depends on what light is in your face. At one point Fritz almost walked off the stage."


Bullet China Inside-Out Dance: Presented by Dances We Dance, Inc.
Bullet The date: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow
Bullet The venue: Leeward Community College Theatre
Bullet Tickets: $19 general; $16 for students, seniors and military
Bullet Call: 537-2152

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