Wen Wei Wang: Coming Full Circle

Posted by Vancouver Opera On 9:28 AM
There are so many exciting aspects to VO’s upcoming Nixon in China. It’s the Canadian premiere, of course, which means Vancouverites will be the very first in the country to see it. The cast includes some of the finest singers in the world. And it’s by the brilliant team of John Adams and Alice Goodman.

Critics are calling this opera a modern masterpiece, which is high praise, considering it’s only been around since 1987. And considering operas hundreds of years old are still drawing huge audiences today, we’re very privileged to be seeing this work so early on.

So, with this production of Nixon in China being such a milestone for Canada, VO decided we needed a killer – and mostly Canadian - team to put it together. Thus, we have Michael Cavanagh directing, Harry Frehner designing the lighting, Parvin Mirhady doing the costumes, Sean Nieuwenhuis creating the multimedia… and Wen Wei Wang to choreograph.

Yes, it’s that Wen Wei Wang, the same internationally-known, award-winning creator of Cock Pit and Unbound. He has created a new and unique dance for this opera, which is made especially meaningful by his connection to the events depicted in Nixon in China.

In Act Two, the Nixons are treated to a sample of Cultural Revolution-style ballet: The Red Detachment of Women. (This actually happened during the Nixons’ 1972 visit to China.) Along with another ballet called The White Haired Girl, it was one of only eight plays, ballets and operas permitted in China between 1966 – 1976 – about the time Wen Wei Wang was growing up in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China.

The White Haired Girl was the very first ballet Wen Wei ever saw. At the time, he didn’t know it was part of the Communist propaganda machine – he just loved the dancing and loved to imitate it at home. Word spread that the six year old Wen Wei could dance so well, and he was sent to a special performing arts school for talented youth.

Around the same time, the Nixons came to China. Wen Wei was there in the crowds, a young boy waving a flag at the side of the road as the motorcade drove by.

Wen Wei continued to dance, and at 13 auditioned for the Army Dance School. An official policy of the Mao regime was that the army was to be active in all areas of Chinese society, including the cultural. Like most people in China at the time, Wen Wei grew up believing in the wisdom of Mao, and was thrilled and honoured to belong to the army in this way. After graduating from the school, Wen Wei became a principal dancer with the Lanzhou Army Dance Company.

In 1986, Wen Wei and his teacher were invited to Vancouver for a few months. He met new people, saw new things, learned a new approach to dance. Having experienced the world outside Communist China, Wen Wei reluctantly returned to China at the end of those five months, changed forever and no longer believing that Mao was a god.

Years of intense training and hard work passed, and by 1991, Wen Wei had passport, a student visa and an invitation to attend the Summer Dance Intensive at SFU. He returned to Vancouver, trained and travelled the country with other dancers. Eventually he joined Ballet B.C., began to create his own dances, won the Clifford E. Lee Award for Choreography…. and the rest is history.

And now, Wen Wei Wang has come full circle, returning to one of the events that shaped his life, to re-shape it in his own way.

You can read more about Wen Wei Wang (in his own words) over at the Dance Victoria website.

- Selina Rajani, Communications Manager

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