RITE OF SPRING / RE choreography by Shen Wei, presented by New World Stage, Luminato and Shen Wei Dance Arts, at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Opens Wednesday (June 6) and runs to June 9, 8 pm, mat June 9 at 2 pm. $35-$45. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Here's a tip. When you're watching the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies next summer, casually turn to your friends and say, "Oh, that's the work of Shen Wei. I saw his choreography last year at Harbourfront."
Guaranteed they'll be impressed.
As will you when you see his company make their local debut with a mixed program that includes their acclaimed production of The Rite Of Spring.
That cornerstone of the ballet repertoire, thought to have ushered in the modern era, gets a tweaking in Shen's version.
Stravinsky's revolutionary music is reduced to its bare bones in a piano transcription, and gone are any thematic references to primitive sacrifice.
"I've seen other versions of the ballet, but they're not how I see the work," says Shen, on the phone from his Manhattan home. "It's about the music. I don't follow every beat. It's more like I want to get to the structures behind the structures of the score. I don't want to just copy the music in movement. You will see how both together make the music even stronger and more interesting."
That's a bold claim, but judging from the international kudos Shen's received, not impossible. His vision encompasses all aspects of a piece, not just the dance and music. For each production, he creates the designs, sets and makeup.
That eclectic background goes back to his Hunan province childhood training in calligraphy, visual arts and Chinese opera.
"I came to dance later," he says. "But they're all different ways of expressing your thoughts. When you're that young - I was five or six - all that training affects how you see art in general. It deeply affects you later."
Shen even shows his paintings in galleries. In July, Lincoln Centre will display some of his artwork while one of his dance works goes up in one of its stages.
After moving to Manhattan from China 12 years ago on a dance scholarship, Shen's travelled a lot. His time in Tibet and Cambodia have inspired the multi-part Re. We're seeing the first part; the second premiered earlier this year at Montreal's Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.
But he and his company have yet to perform in his home country.
"Things are changing so quickly there," he says. "I've had to catch up to the way in which they work. But I'm looking forward to contributing my ideas to the Olympics."
Can he say anything about the Olympics piece?
"Everything's secret," he laughs. "You can't share any information. All I can say is it's a big, big project."