Shen Wei is known as the principal choreographer behind the opening ceremony of Beijing's 2008 Summer Olympics, but by then he was already a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Macarthur Foundation "Genius" Award, and widely celebrated as one of America's most prolific modern dance innovators. While Wei was born in Hunan during the Cultural Revolution and trained in classical Chinese opera, it's almost impossible to imagine him working within such traditional constraints.
However, his choreography and stage design, which often use paintings created by rushes of movement, wherein a stroke of color has an emotional or auditory correlation, have more in common with Chinese calligraphy than American action painting; and his "Natural Body Development" technique, which emphasizes breath, gravity, and visual focus, finds its roots in qigong. By using a dancers' individual chi to initiate movement, Wei's work has an air of constant experimentation and uniqueness. Undivided Divided brings this individuation to a whole new level. In it, the stage is transformed into an interactive grid through which the audience walks. The performers dance within a square or within a large Plexiglas box. They are shirtless, flooded with light, accentuated by paint, and submerged in a multi-track sound design. From a distance, the set brings emphasis to barriers and isolation; but once you're in the piece, with your own private dancer, the individual dynamism of the human experience becomes almost unbearably clear.
Shen Wei Dance Arts presents Undivided Divided at 8 p.m. and runs March 21-24 at YBCA Forum, 701 Mission St., S.F. Tickets are $10-$30; call 978-2700 or visit ybca.org.