Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Shen Wei Dance Theatre, "Second Visit to the Empress"

ANN ARBOR, MI (August 13, 2007) – Chinese choreographer Shen Wei makes his University Musical Society (UMS) debut with Second Visit to the Empress, a work that marries the traditions of Chinese Opera with contemporary dance. The three performances, Friday, September 28 through Sunday, September 30, open UMS’s 07/08 season in Ann Arbor’s Power Center for the Performing Arts. In addition to his trademark visual and modern movement style, Shen Wei brings nearly ten years of opera training at its highest level in his native China to this production. Considered one of the best written music and vocal pieces in the entire Chinese Opera repertory, Second Visit to the Empress is a pillar of the Beijing Opera canon. Shen Wei’s production represents the first known new staging of the work in over 200 years.

For Shen Wei Dance Arts, Second Visit to the Empress represents a multi-year dedication to the celebration of a traditional form rarely seen in the West, and increasingly neglected in China. The overall vision at once recalls and re-casts the form — a treasure of world heritage — through the lens of Shen Wei’s landmark visual style. As such, the dance-opera represents Shen Wei’s most “total” work to date.

The four traditional Beijing Opera luminaries appearing in this production — Ms. Zhang Jing, Mr. Deng Mu Wei, Mr. He Wei, and Ms. Song Yang — are widely regarded as seminal interpreters of the repertoire. Each has a knowledge and aptitude for the form unavailable to non-native performers. Because Second Visit to the Empress features an unusually demanding vocal score, each vocalist was selected for his or her mastery of roles embodied by distinct vocal styles: the wife (female soprano); the intellectual/philosopher advisor (male soprano), and the military advisor (baritone).

The production is fully-staged, including sets, costumes, and make-up design by Shen Wei, and lighting by Jennifer Tipton. The challenging music is played by sixteen musicians (on twenty traditional Chinese instruments). A corps of twelve dancers form a characterless visual counterpart to the score, embodying the music through movement.

The music and lyrics to Second Visit to the Empress were developed approximately 300 years ago by anonymous artists. Zhenguo Liu revised the music for this new production and Shen Wei edited the lyrics. Original material was taken from the Anthology of Classical Peking Operas.

Shen Wei’s production of Second Visit to the Empress was performed at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York City in July. The work premiered in 2005 at the American Dance Festival. University Musical Society (UMS) hosts the only other U.S. engagement this season.

For performance tickets or additional information, contact the University Musical Society at 734-764-2538 or online at http://www.ums.org/.