Shen Wei Choreographer, director, dancer, painter and designer, Shen Wei is widely recognized for his defining vision of an intercultural, interdisciplinary, utterly original mode of movement-based performance.
Shen Wei was born in a rural village of Hunan, China in 1968, year of the monkey. Son of Chinese opera professionals, he left home at the age of nine to study the form; he subsequently won a position at the Hunan State Xian Opera Company, with which he performed leading roles from 1984-1989. In 1991, he became a founding member—dancer and choreographer—of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, the first such company in China. Upon receiving a scholarship from the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab, Shen Wei moved to New York City in 1995.
The subsequent five years laid the groundwork for an international career that continues to this day. In 1995, the young émigré was approached to present his work by the American Dance Festival. Almost immediately, an international audience took notice, and soon his work was to be seen at the National Theater of Taiwan (1996), The Place Theater (1997), Asia Society New York (1997), Stockholm Dance House (1999), Brighten Arts Festival (2000), the Edinburgh Festival Theater (2000), and the Millennium Moves Festival (Germany, 2000). In July 2000, he formed Shen Wei Dance Arts with performances of Near the Terrace at the American Dance Festival.
At an exceptional, meteoric pace, his company entered the international touring circuit and, for the past eight years, has toured extensively on five continents. He has simultaneously created ten new works: Near the Terrace Part One (2000), Folding (2000), Behind Resonance (2001), Near the Terrace Part Two (2001), Rite of Spring (2003), Connect Transfer (2004), Second Visit to the Empress (2005), Map (2005), Re- Part One (2006), and Re- Part Two (2007). For each dance and opera work created with his company, Shen Wei also creates the sets, costumes, and make-up designs. Shen Wei was commissioned to choreograph part of the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In recognition of these achievements, Shen Wei has received numerous awards. He is a 2007 MacArthur “Genius” and United States Artists Fellow. He has received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and the American Dance Festival’s Ben Sommer Fellowship. Among others, Shen Wei also received the Nijinsky Award for Emerging Choreographer in 2004, Australia’s 2005 Helpmann Award for Best Ballet or Dance Work, and the 2006 Les Etoiles de Ballet, Palais des Festival, in Cannes, France. In China, he won first prize for both choreography and performance at the 1994 Inaugural National Modern Dance Competition. He has received eight commissions from the American Dance Festival (1995, 2000–2006), Het Muziektheater Amsterdam (2004 and 2007), Lincoln Center Festival (2005), the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2007), New York City Opera (2005), and Alvin Ailey Dance Theater II, among others.
As a visual artist independent of Shen Wei Dance Arts, Shen Wei is a painter, designer, and photographer. A series of paintings created in conjunction with his ballet Rite of Spring were first exhibited as part of the company’s New York debut at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2003. In October, 2006, the paintings toured with the company at the Hong Kong New Vision Festival, and in July 2007 they returned to New York in tandem with the company’s performance there of Second Visit to the Empress as part of Lincoln Center Festival. His book of photography, Tibet, was created to raise awareness of that region. Its proceeds support the Pandedajie School and Dickey Orphanage in Lhasa.