Wen Wei Wang chats with us about his work Dialogue—a collaboration between the choreographer and six dancers—which speaks to the artist’s own personal struggles as a Chinese immigrant in Canada. Candidly opening up about his own experiences, Wang says that Dialogue is all about telling the stories of those who feel they do not fit in and about struggling to find understanding while feeling alienated within an English-centered society.
By Jasmine Proctor
Wanting to give a voice to those who feel voiceless, Dialogue takes inspiration from Wang’s interactions with fellow immigrants who feel isolated and unheard. “I came from China 26 years ago and I always remember that for the first five years, I didn’t speak much English and I felt like I was an outsider.” Wang states that during these initial years, he began observing the gestures people used, and the body language enforced, when interacting with the English speakers he encountered. Focusing on this idea of gestures as communication, Wang discloses that these types of movements were one of the biggest inspirations for the piece; communicating without language in order to be understood universally. “That’s why I called it Dialogue—because dance, even dance movement, can still be able to speak and communicate.”
Constructing these movements was a team effort and one that incorporated the stories and experiences of the six dancers featured in the piece. Wang collaborated one-on-one with each of the dancers—dancers from all corners of the world ranging from the Philippines, to Iran, to Britain, to even Montreal. Each dancer, Wang says, brought their own unique perspective into the work and contributed to the choreography through story-sharing. Focusing on specific cultural characteristics—such as food cooked and the language spoken in each dancer’s home—Wang infused the movements with these stories and aspects in order to remain true to the multicultural theme of the work in collaboration with each dancer. “All the movements come from the basics. We just built off from that idea.”
Dance and movement represent a communicative means for these stories to be told in a way that defies language. Wang passionately conveys his belief that dance makes us feel without the interplay of verbal language; dance is an art form that allows us to wonder and understand. “Dance, for me, is visual art. It’s what you see, what you feel. It’s like a moving picture.” Wang believes that dance is the perfect channel for Dialogue’s main themes of contact, language, communication, and expression because the art form itself provides a vocabulary rooted in body language and is something that can be understood across cultures and national boundaries. This makes dance a perfect medium for a message of collective communication and cultural understanding.
In terms of uncovering the meaning behind Dialogue’s own choreography and discussions, Wang says to not think too deeply—the movements are neither layered nor complex. “I think this piece will be really easy to understand because it’s not abstract.” Rather, Wang feels each movement will hold meaning and convey different emotions for each audience member, regardless of background. In this way, Wang hopes that audiences from any language, country, or culture can take something from it and understand it through their own perspectives.
Dialogue, while truly an amalgamation of personal stories and experiences, seeks to find peace within a society that seems to ignore and defy our multicultural status. Wang’s hope for the work is that people begin to see beyond the social boundaries we form based on skin colour and race, and start concentrating on what’s inside first and foremost. “We’re all struggling,” Wang claims, and it’s this collective human strife that should allow us to connect to one another and embrace who we are. “As long as we understand each other and as long as we let people be who they are, I think then there will be peace.”
Wen Wei Wang began dancing at an early age in China, where he was born and raised. He trained and danced professionally with the Langzhou Song and Dance Company. In 1991, he came to Canada and joined the Judith Marcuse Dance Company after which he danced with Ballet British Columbia for seven years. Since 2003, he has served as Artistic Director of Wen Wei Dance. Wang fuses precise and subtle choreography with stunning visual design and music, turning each work into a rich and unique world.