Friday, January 29, 2010

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Co. merge East, West

By Jasmina Wellinghoff - Special to the Express-News

San Antonio, TX

In Western cultures, the phoenix is a symbol of rebirth. In Chinese tradition, the mythical bird represents grace and the power of women.

For Taiwanese choreographer Nai-Ni Chen, it is also “a voice” that travels through time and space to connect past and present, East and West. Since she came to this country in 1988, Chen has strived to give visual shape to that voice by blending Eastern and Western concepts in her critically acclaimed original choreography.

Thanks to the Carver Community Cultural Center, Chen and her New Jersey-based company will offer San Antonians a glimpse of their hybrid dance style Saturday with “Song of the Phoenix.”

“‘The Phoenix' is a good, symbolic title for me,” Chen said by phone from her home. “For one thing, I am a woman choreographer and my work reflects my own experience. Then, the phoenix is a timeless, mythical animal that's always changing — like my work.

“I do respect and love (Chinese) traditional forms and that's why I always go back to them for inspiration, but then I create new works from a modern-dance perspective. Modern dance gives you more freedom to create,” she said.

The catchy title is actually an umbrella name for seven pieces, six of which are Chen's creations. Many include props and costumes of distinctly Asian origin, such as huge, undulating ribbons, long bamboo sticks, fans and, in one case, “water sleeves.”

The latter will be worn by Chen herself in “Passage to the Silk River,” a piece that reflects her Peking Opera artistic heritage. No actual water is involved — the dancer manipulates very long silk sleeves to conjure up river flow. Musical accompaniment will be provided by theguquing, one of the oldest instruments known to mankind.

Other dances draw inspiration from regions of China, such as the all-female number “Bamboo Prayer” (central China); “Mirage” (the Uighur region of Western China) and “Dancing With a Yak” — the sole piece that was not choreographed by Chen — which “connects you to the Himalayan mountain setting.”

“I like to take the audience on a journey,” said Chen.

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company

  • What: The company performs “Song of the Phoenix.”
  • Where: Carver Community Cultural Center, 226 N. Hackberry St.
  • When: 8 p.m. Saturday
  • Tickets: $31 at Ticketmaster outlets and the Carver box office
  • Family program: A Passport to Culture Family Day program celebrating Chinese New Year will be presented at 10 a.m. Saturday. $11. Reservations, (210) 207-2719.

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