Big Dance at the Park Avenue Armory

Studio 360

The first thing you notice walking into Manhattan's Park Avenue Armory is its awesome scale. In a city where every nook and cranny seems to be spoken for, the 55,000 square foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall looks like it might have landed from outer space. Completed in 1881, the Armory served as a military facility and social club for the New York State National Guard's prestigious Seventh Regiment. In September of 2007, an art non-profit began programming work that revels in the vast space --- it's New York's answer to the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall in London. For the inaugural production, stunt-artist Aaron Young created a 9,216-square-foot "action painting" created by the skid-marks of ten choreographed motorcycles winkingly titled Greeting Card.

Since then, the Armory has housed a gigantic labyrinth made of fabric by Ernesto Neto and Peter Greenaway's multi-media tribute to Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. Now dancers will try to fill the hall as part of a "trilogy of dance engagements," the first of which concluded this past weekend.

Shen Wei, the 43-year-old Chinese-born choreographer, director, dancer, painter, and designer premiered Undivided Divided, created during a 16-month residency at the Armory. More than 30 members of Shen Wei Dance Arts performed in square and rectangular boxes throughout the hall. They dipped their half-naked bodies in pools of colorful paint and stroked the floor, plexiglass structures, and each other, while audience members wandered among them for an up-close look. The experience was completely individualized, reminiscent of the choose-your-own-adventure style of Sleep No More, the performance-art-dance piece currently running Off-Broadway (see Studio 360's profile of that show here). The company also performed Shen Wei's Rite of Spring and Folding, gorgeously translated for the large space.

Next up at the Armory is STREB Extreme Action performing aerial choreography that will make use of the 85-foot-tall ceilings (December 14-22). It will be intriguing (and perhaps a little terrifying) to witness how Elizabeth Streb adapts her signature gasp-inducing free-falls in that room. Then on New Years Eve, Merce Cunningham Dance Company will present its final performance --- ever --- across three stages in the drill hall (December 29-31). Founded in 1953, it will be the last time audiences will have the opportunity to see the company that the iconic choreographer personally trained.

Slideshow: Shen Wei Arts at the Armory

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