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  • Wen Wei Dance
  • Vancouver East Cultural Centre
  • At the Scotiabank Dance Centre
  • in Vancouver on Tuesday

Vancouver choreographer Wen Wei Wang is a master of imagery. His use of symbolism in dance is superb. So not surprisingly, his new work Cock-Pit is a visual triumph.

The clever title has many meanings: The young, strutting bird and his battlefield of glory; raging testosterone; an enclosed space, perhaps even claustrophobia; male bonding and masculine insecurity; violence, both psychological and physical.

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Although it was funded by Wang's $60,000 winnings from the Rio Tinto Alcan Performing Arts Award - earmarked specifically for the creation of a new work in British Columbia - Cock-Pit was inspired by the dance school that he attended in his native China.

During his formative years, Wang roomed at the school with four other boys. And, as he explains in his program notes, a rich fantasy life and wild imaginings developed during their time together - a time of both burgeoning sexuality and relative seclusion.

Compounding the boys' isolation was that they had no parent or teacher to guide them in sexual matters, and were not allowed to have girlfriends. In their loneliness and confusion, they fixated on both the women of their dreams and their far-away mothers.

Still, Wang being Wang, Cock-Pit isn't straight autobiography. Instead, the turbulent memories of his past are rendered into abstract movements. Rather than narrative, the piece is a sort of stream-of-consciousness.

The cast is comprised of four male dancers: Scott Augustine, Edmond Kilpatrick, Josh Martin and David Raymond. Designer Kate Burrows has clothed them in beige, knee-length britches, leaving their muscled upper bodies exposed. Later, they also appear in flesh-coloured briefs.

The fifth member of the cast is a mysterious everywoman - mother, lover and sexual provocateur. In this role, Alison Denham makes sporadic appearances. We first see her only as undulating arms emerging out of the tight circle that the men have formed around her. In one graphic moment, her hands cup and squeeze the buttocks of one of the men, establishing her as a predatory female.

In addition to his cast, there are two recurring props that Wang weaves through his work - translucent eggs and peacock feathers. How these are integrated with his movement adds to the ravishing look of the piece as well as its mystery.

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For example, Cock-Pit begins with sly humour as the men play games with the eggs. They balance them. They try not to be the last to pick one up. (Of course, they cheat.) The eggs also evolve into symbols of sexual desire. Kilpatrick sensuously rubs his egg over his body, for instance, as the other men seem transfixed by some invisible power their own eggs hold over them.

The sine qua non of Cock-Pit, however, are the peacock feathers. The program notes explain that in Chinese opera these feathers are used as hair pieces to denote warlords. Here, Wang has literally made them extensions of his dancers' bodies - they emerge from forehead bandanas, are placed in holders at their knees, in harnesses over their chests and backs, or at their waists.

Wherever they're placed, the giant feathers take on a life of their own in the gymnastic, acrobatic choreography of this show. They wave and snap in the air, or move with a sinuous, sensuous grace. The feathers also seem to increase the physical space that the dancers occupy, and magnify the adolescent tortures they're enduring.

To avoid any monotony in his use of all these feathers, Wang has tried, with some success, to vary their emphasis and the moods they evoke. For example, the feathers' heighten the sense of anger when Augustine and Raymond fight like rutting bulls, and in a pas de deux with Denham and Kilpatrick, the feathers seem to elongate their bodies, giving their pairing a reflective tone.

All of this is gilded by an atmospheric industrial score from composer Giorgio Magnanensi that reflects inner turmoil, and by James Proudfoot's intense lighting, which moves from darkness to light with the ever-shifting moods on show.

Cock-Pit is at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre until Feb. 28. It will run at Ottawa's National Arts Centre as part of BC Scene, April 30 to May 2.

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