Thursday, May 30, 2013
By Caroline Berg in Cheverly, Maryland (China Daily)
May 24, 2013
When Sabrina Jaafer told her friend from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York that she and the Nai- Ni Chen Dance Company were going to perform at the Publick Playhouse in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, her friend gushed.
"Oh, you're going to love it!" the friend told Jaafer. "They have the best audience."
After a stringed prelude by the Ahn Trio, which played live onstage throughout the 11-piece dance and music presentation, stirred the audience to hoots and applause, the dancers were confident this was going to be a good Temptation of the Muses - their last performance of the show this season.
"During the duet, I could hear the audience gasp when Daniel [Johnson] lifted me, and they always made a sound when I'd go into a handstand," Ekaterina Chernikhova said with a laugh in recalling the performance of Lullaby for My Favorite Insomniac.
The 75-minute program is a collaborative effort involving Taiwan choreographer Nai-Ni Chen, the Korean violin-cello-piano Ahn sisters' trio, original works by American composer Kenji Bunch and the improvisation of Chen's international dance troupe.
Chen drew inspiration for the movement and sound in Temptation of the Muses from the poem A Word for Freedom, by Afghan-born Latif Nazemi about a Persian poet. It begins, "Let's kiss water / the root of civilization / a word for freedom".
"I've used the idea of water as freedom to choreograph this piece, and with this idea you see more of an Asian touch with the sensibility of how I use the dancers," Chen said. "The quietness, the stillness and the subtleties in the movement - in this piece you can see more of that influence from my Asian cultural background."
Chen incorporates elements of her Asian heritage into her choreography whenever she deems it appropriate for her cross-cultural contemporary troupe. In addition to original works, the company also performs a range of traditional Chinese pieces, including Hubei Coin Stick Dance, Mongolian Chopstick Dance, and Love Song of Xishuangbanna.
Temptation is more American than Chinese in its style, with touches of jazz, classic rock and country in the score. However, careful study of the choreography reveals Asian undertones.
"It may not be entirely clear that this movement is from martial arts or that movement is from Peking Opera, but the influence is evident in the staging and the visual elements," Chen said.
"You can compare it to a Chinese painting with the contrasts between the yin and yang, and the empty white part, and the strokes of calligraphy."
Chen said she always takes these ideas into consideration when she choreographs a dance, regardless of the overall cultural style of the performance - East, West or otherwise.
Seven dancers and a lighting specialist traveled 3? hours from their home base in New Jersey in two vehicles with Chen to perform at the historic 500- seat theater in Cheverly, Maryland. Their partners onstage, the Ahn Trio, traveled from New York City and Montana.
Chen has her dancers congregate around the musicians onstage - sitting with them, watching them, flirting with them, crawling under a piano, standing on their chairs. The choreographer layers all of these elements in a way that unites the movement with the music.
"The dancers must be very aware of where they are and, at the same time, they can't show any resistance," Chen said. "We have to show how we are really blending together and not have any cautious feelings translated to the audience."
After the performance, all of the performers met with audience members at a reception in the lobby. The patrons eagerly discussed with Chen and the performers the choreography and feelings experienced throughout the diverse range of numbers.
"It's so great how you incorporated the musicians and connected all the elements in the choreography," one person told Chen, who has been running her company since 1988.
Chen said the trio was a little stiff as it played through the integrated movement at the beginning, but she has seen them open up over time and become more comfortable with the choreography.
"In terms of Nai-Ni's choreography, [Temptation] is not as physically demanding as something like Whirlwind, which is like a marathon," Chernikhova said of a dance by Chen that was inspired by her time traveling along the Silk Road in China. "Dancing to live music is the more challenging element in this work."
Nai-Ni Chen and the Ahn Trio have been performing and tweaking this show since its premiere in New York in 2010. Over a span of about 30 performances, dancers have come and gone.
Chen will be holding auditions on June 3 in preparation for another season. Her current troupe is made up of dancers from the United States, China, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Italy and Cuba.
Although Chen draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including poems, calligraphy, travel, current events and music, she said she often gets ideas just from improvising with her dancers in the studio.
"A sudden inspiration will come up and I'll remember something from my childhood and I'll put that memory somehow into my choreography," Chen said. "I think because of who I am, subconsciously [my Asian background] is going to come out in my work no matter what."
Link to original article: http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2013-05/24/content_16529379.htm
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Dance company conjures a 'Whirlwind' premier
By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)Nai-Ni Chen went to China's Silk Road and got caught in a whirlwind. The mosaic of cultures and nature she observed on a summer of travel inspired her to choreograph a contemporary dance embodying the spirit of this ancient trade route.
"Whirlwind is the cultures, art, energies and people coming from different parts of the world and somehow met here on the Silk Road and intertwined," the Taiwan native choreographer and artistic director of Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company said. "I refer back to the whirlwind - this natural phenomenon in the desert - and use that as a starting point to move the language and set the structure for the dance."
Whirlwind is the product of two years of planning and collaboration. The two-part, hour-long dance incorporates eight men and women dancers from the United States, Italy, Russia and South Korea, as well as original music by percussionist Glen Velez and visual art by Jayanthi Moorthy of India.
During the New York premiere at Salvatore Capezio Theater at Peridance, with two performances over the weekend, partially unclad dancers in silk earth-toned costumes glistened with sweat from the fluctuating, and sometimes acrobatic, movements.
"I try to explore contrasts in terms of rhythm and dynamics," Chen said. "Like when you listen to music with one instrument on top of another or if you look at the many components in nature that overlap, you'll see layers of movement that overlap with the dancers."
The dance employs trance, rhythmic breathing and spiral motions to emulate the shape and energy of a desert whirlwind. It also adopts from traditional characters like Mongolian horsemen and flying eagles as well as the celebratory movements of the Uyghur people.
"There are a lot of folk elements in these dances," Chen said. "Folk dancing is very beautiful. It doesn't matter which culture the folk dancing is from, it represents the human spirit, it comes from the people. It's a great inspiration."
The greatest challenge Chen found in choreographing her work was representing all the experiences she had along the Silk Road, including the ancient caves and murals in Dunhuang, Muslim life in mosques, the nomadic Mongolian life and the natural world of mountains, grasses and desert.
"It's hard to start in the beginning and find the place to put your foot down," Chen said. "It took a lot of improvisation with the dancers to really find what I want to say."
Seven dancers begin the dance standing in two staggered lines as a group of travelers in a caravan, slowly leaning back and forth. Then, in a moment, they begin twirling and jumping like the desert wind.
"It's like watching an abstract painting," Chen said. "You can find your own story rather than the painter telling you exactly what the story is about."
Apart from Whirlwind, Chen has developed another modern work based on her Silk Road experience called Mirage, based on Uyghur dance and music.
The choreographer imagines this sensory overload and excess of material she possesses will lead to a Silk Road series.
"There's so much more to say," Chen said, who plans to visit the road again and explore Central Asia next. "It's going to take many more years to develop this idea."
Whirlwind was created in support from a Live Music for Dance grant from New Music USA, which is supported in part by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
Before the first performance commenced Saturday night, Martin Wechsler, director of programming at Joyce Theater who attends an average of three to four dance performances a week, said he doubted Whirlwind would make it to the Joyce stage because the theater prefers to showcase New York premiers.
However, after the winded dancers took their bows, Wechsler admitted he might have to reconsider.
"That was very good," he said.
Link to original article: http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2013-04/12/content_16396209.htm
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Oberon's Grove (written by Philip Gardner)
|Photo by James Wagner|
Sunday April 6th, 2013 matinee - At Peridance today, Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company presented the second of tw
o performances of WHIRLWIND, a gorgeous dancework inspired by Nai-Ni's personal journey along the Silk Road. Delving into the ancient mysteries of the old Asiatic cultures, Nai-Ni Chen seeks to transport us out of the driven, jangling clamour of modern life and to ponder the simplicity and spiritual richness of another place and time. To accomplish this, Nai-Ni asks her dancers - steeped in contemporary modes of movement and expression - to find the bridge across centuries and cultures and bring us a vision of another place and time: half-a-world and hundreds of years away. Whirlwind, a desert phenomenon arising from the meeting of air currents flowing in opposite directions, here becomes a metaphor for the meeting of Asian and European cultures which took place along the legendary Silk Road.
Opening with the dancers standing in stillness, WHIRLWIND is from start to finish greatly enhanced by its lighting (Carrie Wood) and costuming (Anna-Alisa Belous)...and some richly-textured projections (Jayanthi Moorthy) in Part II. Composer Glen Velez has created a magical tapestry of sound, evoking the Eastern realms with music that is at once seductive and soulful: swaying rhythms, delicate dreamlike themes, mystic chanting, bursts of dynamic - almost primitive - energy. At times, the dancers are called upon to participate vocally, recalling for me an early rehearsal I attended where the composer was teaching them their rhythmic patterns. (The roster of dancers is quite different now from that day in 2011.)
In this musical and visual setting, it's the dancers who transform this history lesson/travel diary into an immediate and marvelous contemporary dance experience. There are eight dancers in the Company but such are the shifting patterns of this well-constructed work that we sometimes have the illusion of a much larger number of people moving in the space. The boys are bare-chested, the women in gossamer trousers in subdued earthtones. From the moment they break out of their initial solemn pose, these remarkable dancers bring passionate commitment to every move.
WHIRLWIND unfolds in two sections with a brief pause between. Sweeping us along in movement that veers from meditative to fiercely athletic, the dancers delve into the choreographic richness with great technical assurance and boundless individual charisma. Of the current troupe, only Ekaterina Chernikhova and Jung Hm Jo are familiar to me from the Company's previous performances though I know Greta Campo from her work with choreographer Danielle Schulz.
Ensemble passages flow freely into smaller movement modules; there are numerous solos (everyone has ample opportunity to shine), and there are some beautiful partnering passages, notable a spotlit duet for Ekaterina with Daniel Johnson set to a deep, earthy chant. Rituals are evoked, and there's a male quartet expressing both brotherhood and hints of the combative. An entree with the girls in high lifts makes a stunning impression - something to savour visually - but the music and dance surge ever onward.
Along with Ekaterina and Greta, Eun Kyung Hong and Sabrina Jaafar made beautiful impressions every moment they were onstage. The fluent power and grace of the four well-contrasted male dancers - Jung Hm Jo, James Johnson, Daniel Johnson and Yoo Sik Kim - continually thrilled us with their effortless athleticism and magnetic personalities. With great generosity of spirit, these eight dancers made the afternoon a thoroughly satisfying experience.
April 08, 2013 | Permalink
I'd been wanting to see the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company for years, but it wasn't until last weekend that I finally made the trek out to Newark to see the company celebrate the Chinese New Year with their production Year of the Serpent. The program was a wonderful mix of traditional Chinese dancing, music and opera combined with a new contemporary piece, Whirlwind, which received its world premiere this year. The dancers moved seamlessly between the different dance styles. It was very generous and helpful of the company to have provided the audience with detailed descriptions of the history and inspiration for each dance, along with narratives about the peoples and customs of the different regions of China from where these dances come.
The performance opened with a piece called Double Lions Welcoming Spring which tells the story of trust built between young children and ferocious lions. The dance is intended as a prayer for peace and harmony in the coming year. Playful and often funny (such as when the lion forgets himself on stage and nibbles on his own foot, or throws in an extra cabriole before exiting the stage) the dance includes dazzling acrobatics and tumbling sequences. Each lion is played by two men who do an amazing job of making the beast's back ripple in feline fashion, or making it rear back on its hind legs. The Chinese folk costumes and the design of the lion are so beautifully done.
In Song of the Water Lily, dancer Ying Shi embodies the beauty and purity of a young girl. She carries a fan ornamented with a lovely billowing scarf which resembles a flower petal. The lighting and music create the atmosphere of a lily pond, down to the sound of water droplets and bird songs spliced in with the traditional folk music. There is a wide sweep of movement, from luscious slow and controlled extensions and port des bras, to a rapid success of turns executed while spotting the floor. The dance is at once ornate and colorful as it is earthy and primal.
Another traditional piece, arranged by Ms. Chen, was the rousing Coin Stick Dance. Bamboo sticks filled with coins create a host of different rattling sounds as they are tapped against shoulders, hips and floor, or twirled like batons. The dance was presented as an ensemble piece, but had lovely partnering sections in which pairs of dancers tapped their sticks together. The piece was marked by pretty formations and nice footwork sequences.
One of the highlights for me was seeing Ms. Chen's earthy modern piece, Whirlwind, inspired by her journey on the Silk Road. It opens with six dancers standing still on stage, very subtly swaying forward and backward on the breeze. In this section, and throughout the piece, Ms. Chen used groups moving in unison, save for one dancer. These formations seemed to embody the phenomenon of the whirlwind, which she described in the program as coming from different directions. In the opening section, the dancers' mostly remain in their spots, but they execute beautiful adagio movement with the upper body and the plie, creating the atmospheres of a coming storm. As the dance builds, influences of various cultures can be appear. The energy of the wind can be felt in contractions and sighing movement. I loved the section danced by the men, locked onto one another's arms in a circle and swaying together in a way that seemed ancient and ritualistic. Great original movement in this dance and beautiful artistic execution by the dancers.
Min Zhou shone in the traditional Peacock Dance from her charming staccato birdlike gestures, shuddering shoulders and expressive movement of the upper body, to her lovely transitions into slow and controlled adagio phrases. She held her arm above her head, her hand shaped like the head of a peacock, her floor length skirt draped to resemble its plumage.
The program closed with Chen's traditional piece, Festival, a spectacle of cartwheels, barrel turns, colorful ribbons, and flags, complete with a dragon dance in which the dragon takes a spin around the audience. The piece was great fun and a fitting close to a beautiful program.
Link to original post: http://www.bodywrappers.com/company_dancereviews.php#nai-nichen