Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Article By Pui See Tsang
Photo by Niko

The Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company celebrates its 25th anniversary season with a program that samples Nai-Ni’s works with live music.

The program featured the world premiere of Not Alone, with the Prism Saxophone Quartet. The company also performed Incense with Joan La Barbara, Grooveboxes with the Ahn Trio and Whirlwind with Glen Velez.

Since 1995, Chen has been collaborating with composers. The company often performs with live music, and this season offers a special treat with every dance featuring live musicians, such as the vocal sound artist, Joan La Barbara, who will sing her original composition for Incense. Chen encourages us to, “Come not just to see the dance, but also to enjoy the music.”

This season the company will also premiere Not Alone, a dance that asked its artists to contemplate if we are indeed all there is. In developing the choreography for this piece, the dancers intimately explored their shadows, as well as the pillars, paintings, and lighting in Newark’s Aljira Contemporary Art Museum, where they enjoyed a residency earlier in the creative process. The museum residency culminated in a showing that immersed the audience in both visual and moving art. Chen and her dancers are excited to share Not Alone on a proscenium stage with live musicians for the first time.

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.

In the concluding work, Grooveboxes, Nai-Ni Chen put aside her usual style of sweeping expansiveness in favor of a fast-paced, jazzy style to mirror Kenji’s energetic score, which was played with lively attack by the Ahn Trio.

After 25 years of creating and performing in some of the most prestigious theaters in the United States, as well as touring the world in international festivals, Nai-NI Chen continues to discover and try new movement, often inviting her dancers to improvise when developing work. While open to exploration, the choreographer is aware of the essence of her style, which is an approach deeply informed by martial arts and the classical Chinese dance of her early upbringing. Traditional props, swords, spears, fans, and the flowing, and elegant Chinese water sleeves are often layered into her contemporary dances.

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