Vancouver choreographer Wen Wei Wang likes to describe dance as a physical language. “You use your body to speak,” he told the Straight in a recent phone interview.
But Wang noted that the language of dance became exceedingly difficult to communicate during the pandemic because bodies could not connect.
When his company, Wen Wei Dance, began holding rehearsals for its latest creation, Two, dancers Justin Calvadores and Calder White could not touch one another. In addition, Wang and the dancers had to wear masks.
“It is so hard, physically,” Wang said. “It’s so hard to breathe.”
One thing he found especially troubling—from a choreographer’s perspective—was having to keep the dancers two metres apart, which was required under provincial health protocols.
“Of course, you have to go with the restrictions,” Wang noted.
The isolation, silence, and loneliness that are so common during the pandemic resonate through Two, a duet that will premiere at the Dancing on the Edge festival.
Wang described Calvadores and White as “gorgeous dancers”, both emotionally and physically.
The show, which focuses on the longing for connection, mirrors what so many have had to endure over the past 16 months.
He liked the idea of pairing a male dancer of Asian ancestry with a white male dancer, because this is something that he could identify with.
“It doesn’t matter your colour or your cultural background,” Wang noted. “As human beings, we want to be able to connect. We just want to be touched or hugged. I think that’s a simple thing, but we cannot do it.”
From Xi'an to Vancouver
Wang has enjoyed an illustrious career as a dancer and choreographer since moving to Vancouver from China in 1991.
He grew up in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province and one of the four great ancient capitals of China.
"The Silk Road starts from there—from Xi'an it goes to the west," he said. "So in my hometown, half of the city is Muslim. So I grew up in a multicultural world."
There were Persian, Russian, Indian, and Tibetan influences, providing him with a broader world view than he might have had if he grew up somewhere else in China.
In Vancouver, Wang started with the Judith Marcuse Dance Company, which was followed by a seven-year stint with Ballet B.C. He launched his own company in 2003.
But it wasn’t until the pandemic that he was forced to become a movie director.
He explained that the live dancing in Two runs from 25 to 27 minutes, and it will be augmented at Dancing on the Edge by 13 minutes of film in two parts.
The first section features the dancers in the natural world. The second part shows them in urban Vancouver, in a back alley, Gastown, and Chinatown.
Emotions drive the story
Wang said that he wanted to make it look like an indie film rather than a high-tech movie with special effects.
That’s because Two is about human emotions.
“I want people to feel like ‘I was there. I feel it. I’ve been there,’ ” Wang said. “It’s about me, about you, about everybody.”
The Vancouver dance artist said that on film, the camera directs the audience’s eyes.
He contrasted that with a performance on-stage, where audience members can choose what they want to focus on.
In the future, he’s hoping to turn Two into a full-length show, perhaps lasting as long as 55 minutes.
“Maybe the next stage is they can be able to touch,” Wang said. “But right now…they still wear masks.”