UNBOUND choreography by Wen Wei Wang, presented by the Wen Wei Dance Company and Harbourfront's New World Stage series at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Opens April 17 and runs to Apr 21, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm. $27-$30. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Choreographer Wen Wei Wang always wanted to try on his mother's high-heeled shoes but never did. In Unbound, he's getting a chance to don a different sort of female shoe - namely, the three-inch kind worn by Chinese women who had their feet bound in childhood.
"They completely change the way you walk and feel," says Wang on the phone from his Vancouver home before his appearance this week as part of Harbourfront's New World Stage series.
"When a man puts the shoes on, his relationship changes with everyone around him. You're no longer yourself."
Wang first got the idea for Unbound several years ago when he asked local choreographer and Beijing opera expert William Lau to conduct a workshop with his dance company.
During the week, Lau produced a pair of the lotus shoes. Wang was fascinated. He got that same feeling during a trip to Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum, seeing the silk shoes with a floral pattern.
"I grew up during the Cultural Revolution and always wondered why the older generation of women wore these plain black cotton shoes that looked so dirty and ugly," he says. "When I saw these tiny silk shoes, I understood why they wanted to ban women's feet from looking attractive. They're so sexual."
Unbound features six dancers, three women and three men (including Wang himself). Although it's more abstract than narrative, Wang says it shifts between two time periods, as if you're in a dream.
"When the women don't wear the shoes, they're so powerful and they dance with men as equals," he points out. "When they wear the shoes, their bodies change. During duets, they tend to fall because of the shoes and the men have to catch them."
Wang wants Unbound to be more than just a history lesson about traditional foot-binding practices. There are, he says, resonances in today's world.
"Look at the plastic surgery industry and what it does to women," he says. "And look at women wearing high heels today, especially in a place like France. It's like they're on high demi-pointe," he says, the classical ballet term hinting at his mix of training backgrounds, which includes ballet, classical Chinese and contemporary.
"Nobody binds feet any more in China, but there and everywhere around the world, women are still not treated as equals."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Wang on where his work is going