The Asian Cultural Council, founded in 1963 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, advances international dialogue and understanding between Asia and the U.S. through cultural exchange. In honor of its founder, ACC established the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Award in 1985, recognizing an individual who has made a significant contribution to the international understanding and appreciation of Asian art and culture. In 2017, that award recognized New York-based choreographer, director, and painter Shen Wei. He is an honoree along with philanthropists David and Susan Rockefeller at ACC's 55th Anniversary Gala in New York on October 3. Internationally celebrated as one of the most gifted choreographers of his generation, Shen Wei’s expansive vision, rooted in traditional Chinese aesthetics yet strikingly international, has transformed the face of contemporary performance.
Born in China’s Hunan province in 1968, Shen Wei was trained since a boy in the rigorous practice of Chinese opera performance, as well as traditional Chinese ink painting and calligraphy. During his university years, Shen Wei’s interest in modern dance was sparked by his study of Western visual art. In 1989, he began modern dance training at the Guangdong Dance Academy in China, and in 1991 he became a founding member of the groundbreaking Guangdong Modern Dance Company, the first company of its kind in China. In 1995 he received a fellowship to study with the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab in New York. That same year, he was invited to create work at the American Dance Festival, and his residency there was supported by ACC.
Shen Wei (ACC 1995, 2017) with Shen Wei Dance Arts (ACC 2005, 2006, 2014) in Folding. Photo by Stephanie Berger
Since forming Shen Wei Dance Arts in 2000, Shen Wei has developed his own dance technique, a movement vocabulary he calls Natural Body Development. He has received 23 commissions from major presenting institutions including the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Park Avenue Armory, Metropolitan Museum, Lincoln Center Festival, the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, as well as major international dance companies. His movement-based works have toured to 130 cities, and Shen Wei himself has been recognized with a formidable number of awards, including a 2007 MacArthur Fellowship, the US Artists Fellow award, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.
In China, Shen Wei is credited with having had a major influence, with others, in creating a new Chinese contemporary dance based on traditional Chinese culture, world influence, and individual creativity.
Lately, Shen Wei, who has always maintained his practice as a painter and calligrapher, has been creating a series of performative installations and site-specific works that have been presented at museums in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. His paintings have been featured in solo exhibitions in leading galleries and museums around the world.
ACC is proud to recognize Shen Wei, whose work presents a unique vision bridging China and the U.S. at a time when understanding and amity could not be more necessary to our shared future.
Below, Shen Wei, Founder & Director of Shen Wei Dance Arts, in New York. Photo by Francesco Squeglia