Review: Made in China, at the Firehall Arts Centre (Wen Wei Dance)

I saw this piece in an open rehearsal in January, before the troupe took the work to Banff and their premiere performance.

I really liked what I saw in the rehearsal, so I was definitely anticipating the full production with lighting and visuals and costumes.

The lighting and visuals added a lot to this work. I couldn’t believe the intricate shadow work, and how mesmerizing it was. I was often torn between watching the dancer and watching his or her shadows. Sammy Chien did an excellent job on managing the lighting and visuals and the dancers did a fantastic job matching their dance to the projected screen behind them. I often felt like I was seeing a live and animated classical Chinese painting, in terms of how the perspective worked. It’s sort of shadow puppetry, except there are no puppets.

I hadn’t realized that the informal discussion that the dance troupe has at the start, where they describe their artistic paths and their relationships to China and Canada, was part of the work. During the rehearsal I thought they were just chatting with us. I was glad they included this explanatory and introductory part in the work. It’s not “pure” dance, but the juxtaposition of dance, theatre, music, and shadows add up to much more than the sum of their parts.

As for the music, I am biased as I love traditional Chinese music, but Qiu Xia He’s mastery of numerous instruments is amazing. She developed this specialty at her mother’s urging so that she could escape the Cultural Revolution.

The different parts of the work were perhaps not quite so clear to me as they were at the rehearsal, where, to my recollection, we had labels (such as “Birth”). But you will still get a strong emotional sense. I interpreted some of the dance to refer both to an infant learning language, and a new immigrant learning the new language. Other dance seemed that it might refer to hunger and suffering (perhaps during the Cultural Revolution?).

This troupe plays with the stereotype that Chinese are not artistic, but do everything “the same” (and they specifically refer to this at the start). If you watch this work, you will see for yourself how fallacious that stereotype is. Everything about this work is unique, but the best part for me is how all the different elements are combined in such a harmonious way. It was slightly frustrating for me not to understand the Chinese language parts, but given that the projected screen was fully utilized with the visuals, I doubt that surtitles would be a great choice here. I think you will understand the work pretty well, and most of it is in English anyway.

Wen Wei Wang expresses what he means by “Made in China”. I recommend seeing this (alas, it may be too late in Vancouver!).

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