Truth, Beauty, and Realness: Yang Yuntao and Shen Wei in New York

Yang Yuntao, Assistant Artistic Director of the Hong Kong Dance Company, is an award-winning dancer and choreographer who has also worked with the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, Beijing Modern Dance Company, and City Contemporary Dance Company. He is widely known for his choreographic works for the Hong Kong Dance Company, which includes Everlasting Love (2009) and Romance of the Three Kingdoms (2010). Yang was awarded the ACC Jean Ho fellowship in 2011 to take part in a four-month residency program with Shen Wei Dance Arts and visit leading modern dance companies around the United States.


Truth, Beauty, and Realness: Yang Yuntao and Shen Wei in New York

Towards the end of 2011, I traveled to New York to take part in a four-month exchange program with support from the ACC Jean Ho Fellowship. My program mainly consisted of a residency with Shen Wei Dance Arts – a dance company founded by 1995 ACC grantee Shen Wei which involved participating in their works and performances.

Sunset in New York

The performance that I was involved in included two of Shen Wei’s classic pieces and a brand new work which was presented at the Park Avenue Armory, one of the key venues for contemporary performing arts. The performance as a whole was a presentation of Shen Wei’s journey over the last 10 years in terms of his creative pursuits and the heights of his artistic achievement. This is especially true of his new work, “Undivided Divided” which is a mix of installation art, multimedia art, performance art, and dance. The piece features 30 dancers and utilizes the entire space of the venue by interweaving performers between the audience members, challenging the roles and relationships between performer, audience, and stage.

Through the hard work of those on stage and those behind it, the performances were a success. Shen Wei’s talent is unquestionable. Having spent over four months in close observation and exchange with Shen Wei, I was inspired with new ideas about truth and beauty in the art of dance.

Yang Yuntao in Rehearsal

Rehearsals in New York

I was made aware of Shen Wei’s endless pursuit of ‘realness’ in the body by participating in his rehearsals. This realness lends a sense of authenticity and purity to each movement and it is only to do with the movements itself and the speed of its execution. The movements are without any inherent meaning and it does not convey any emotion, but by this, the audience experiences the body in its truest form. Most of the time, the appreciation of dance is taken from an aesthetic or meaning-based point of view, and the actual body itself and its realness is often neglected. And yet this realness is precisely the aspect of dance which distinguishes it from theater – as it is no longer burdened with narrative or emotion. Dance is then an art form grounded in authenticity, characterized by a beauty which comes from its abstract purity that is better able to accommodate the emotions and thoughts of its audiences. The desired result of each performance is then to enable the audience to feel for themselves and through this, for the audience to recognize dance as an independent form of art.

Other than working with Shen Wei, my experience of being alone in a foreign land during this grant trip has caused me to understand myself anew in a different way. Often one only becomes sensitive to certain feelings and emotions when one is faced with the challenge of living in an unfamiliar environment. This experience gives you a heightened awareness of the people and events around you. For an arts professional, this is an experience of the realness of life.