Despite gale-force winds, sideways rain, and the very real threat of becoming an impromptu flying projectile, I ventured out to see Shen Wei Dance Arts’ “Connect Transfer” at the Gaillard Saturday night. Outside, there was a chaos of thunder and lightening; inside, Shen Wei and his dancers delivered an work of abstract, sublime beauty that somehow seemed like stillness itself. The performance began in complete silence, with dancers pairing up like black-clad insects, slowly stretching and straining against one another in the whisper thin atmosphere of the huge stage. When the music began, a haunting string quartet by Kevin Volans, the dancers exploded into action, singly and with each other, spinning and unfolding across the canvas-covered floor like windup toys of springs and rubberbands, all the while wearing special mitts and booties covered with paint that traced their progress across the stage.
The middle part of the work featured a strange piano work from contemporary Greek composer Iannis Xenakis (the So Percussion quartet performed his monumental concert work Pleiades for the Music in Time series two years ago), which sounded like something that, if your six-year-old were causing it to emerge from a piano, you’d smack her and and tell her to cut it out. Here, though, it accompanied dancers who staggered around the room, looking like drunks constantly on the verge of falling over, waving their arms and legs wildly in an effort to remain upright.
In the midst of it all, this Spoleto blogger was suddenly confronted with a crisis of action: a cell phone began to ring. And it was coming from the pocket of the gentleman sitting right next to me. I turned slowly to look evil directly in the face, and I was struck by its banality. He was a fattening white-haired man of about 55, dressed in a dark business suit and wearing glasses. He knows who he is. I stared at him while he let the screaming object in his pocket ring itself out. He made no move toward it, obviously wanting everyone around us to think it was sombody else’s phone, anybody else’s. But he knew, and I knew. After the phone had quieted, he reached into his pocket and powered it down, wringing one last electronic sob out of it. What could I do? I wanted to stand up, face the thousands, and point to him. I wanted to whisper despicable things in his ear. I wanted to smash his phone into a thousand electronic pieces. But I looked up at the dancers, zen and quietude and such intensity of focus cascading off them, and I raised up the notepad I’d been scribbling on to where he could see it. “I WAS SITTING RIGHT BESIDE THE ASSHOLE WHOSE CELLPHONE RANG,” I wrote in big block letters under my other notes.
To the gentleman who was sitting in Row E, seat 20 for Shen Wei Dance Arts on Saturday night, I have a message for you. To hear it, go see Dood Paard’s medEia and listen to the very last words of the play.
After the performance, everyone walked up onto the stage and marveled at the paint-covered artifact of the dance company’s efforts of just moments before. One of those standing beside me was local Spoletian Rosie Ballentine, aged 12, who was willing to share her thoughts on the performance with me. Give a listen: