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Dancing on the Edge: Choreographers Wen Wei Wang and Francesca Lettieri marry past with present in Barocco Rave

photo by Wen Wei Wang
Adrian de Leeuw and Matthew Wyllie are two of four performers in Barocco Rave. Photo by Wen Wei Wang.

For celebrated choreographer Wen Wei Wang, his art is ultimately about people.

“As long as I’m alive, it’s always about a human condition—your suffering or your love or your search or your isolation and being lonely,” Wang tells Pancouver over Zoom. “I think that’s what everybody will go through.”

The gamut of human emotions are at the core of his latest work, RE | BUILD | US. It’s the second half of Barocco Rave, which will open the 35th annual Dancing on the Edge Festival on Thursday (July 6) in Vancouver. Sienna-based choreographer Francesca Lettieri of Compagnia ADARTE choreographed the first half, Beat Armonico.

During the same Zoom call, Lettieri says that she’s created a bridge between the past and present. Her piece will include the music of some of the great baroque composers, such as Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Henry Purcell.

“It’s something that belongs to the past but we are trying to reinterpret it in the present,” Lettieri says.

She likens Barocco Rave to a kind of time travel. The dance and visuals are contemporary, but the sound speaks to historical times. As a choreographer, Lettieri likes to create a current within a piece that sometimes zig-zags in different directions.

“I like to surprise the audience,” she says. “I like to change my mind. I like to change the vision and change the point of view.”

Then she adds: “The hard thing is to try do that without the audience realizing that you are in some way guiding them.”

Francesca Lettieri Photo by Simone Falteri
Choreographers Francesca Lettieri (photo by Simone Falteri) and Wen Wei Wang have created an unusual collaboration to kick off this year’s Dancing on the Edge festival in Vancouver.

Wang brings talented dancers to the project

Wang, who hails from the Chinese city of Xian, points out that his roots are in ballet. Moreover, he adds, he slowly moved into contemporary dance, Lettieri, on the other hand, comes from a contemporary background and has always enjoyed pushing boundaries.

“That’s what is exciting,” Wang says. “I think that is what this piece is about.”

Both works will be performed by Ballet BC alumna Alexis Fletcher and three other B.C. dancers now with Ballet Edmonton: Ariana Barr, Adrian de Leeuw, and Matthew Wyllie. Wang, a longtime Vancouver dancer and choreographer, joined Ballet Edmonton as artistic director in 2018.

Lettieri mentions that she’s thrilled to be able to draw on the amazing physical expression of these dancers, who’ve all worked with Wang for so many years.

“I tried to use that vocabulary in a direction that had meaning for my kind of work,” she states.

According to Lettieri, it’s not easy creating two works by two choreographers that are different but still connected. And she lavishly praises Wang’s generosity in inviting her to collaborate while offering her so much trust.

“This is totally unusual,” Lettieri acknowledges. “Unfortunately, I have to say, in the dance field, people are very egocentric.”

Photo by Wen Wei Wang
Photo by Wen Wei Wang.

Colourful craziness coupled with struggle

For his part, Wang says that he initially planned to have the dancers wear beige skin tones.

However, he changed his mind after seeing Lettieri bring all these colours to the stage. So Wang tried to find common ground with his own colourful costumes, which were designed by Linda Chow.

In addition, Weng says that a percussion player will appear on-stage along with the live dancers. The “colourful craziness” will give his piece a pop culture feeling. Yet it will reveal some suffering through movement, which complements what many are feeling in their lives these days.

“Maybe because of the pandemic, we have this struggle finding the joy,” Wang says. “The joy may be there, but the struggle is still continuing.”

Dancing on the Edge will present Barocco Rave at 7 p.m. on Thursday (July 6) and 9 p.m. on Friday (July 7) at the Firehall Theatre. For more information and tickets, visit the Dancing on the Edge festival website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.