Friday, February 12, 2010

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company rings in Chinese New Year

By Robert Johnson/The Star-Ledger

February 11, 2010, 6:46PM

Dancers Noibis Licea, Chun-Yu Lin and Julie Judlova of the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company.

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company
Where: Victoria Theater, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, One Center Street, Newark
When: Saturday Feb, 13 and Sunday.
2 p.m.
How much: Performance tickets are $20, $22. Call (888) 466-5722 or visit banquet tickets and information, call (800) 650-0246.

Chinese New Year is a time for feasting. Yet even before waiters parade to the table carrying mounds of steaming delicacies, the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company will offer dance fans a banquet of movement, color and light.

The company’s beloved "Chinese New Year Celebration" returns to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, in Newark, this weekend, and Chen describes the spectacle as a "visual feast" that is every bit as satisfying — and less fattening — than the 12-course meal offered as an option to hungry viewers after the show.

Chen is a contemporary choreographer based in Fort Lee, and she has lived in the United States for many years. So while her program features traditional music and dance, including the indispensable good-luck opening "Double Lions Welcoming the Spring," this frisky program also features Chen’s original dance creations.

Even the folk dances have been enriched by the dancers’ Westernized approach.

In addition to a reprise of Chen’s mysterious and darkly glinting piece "Mirage," the company will present the premiere of "Earth," the latest in a series of Chen dances subtitled "The Way of Five," and inspired by Chinese alchemy. Chen says she has choreographed weighted movement, and layered ensembles for this piece, which is set to a commissioned electronic score by Rutgers composer Gerald Chenoweth.

The coming year is the Year of the Tiger in China’s lunar calendar, where every year is associated with a different animal rotating in a 12-year cycle. "The tiger is a very strong and powerful animal," Chen says, explaining why her new work, "Earth," focuses on images of deep-seated strength and balance. While both the tiger and the earth are dynamic
entities, Chen says that they radiate peace and harmony. So in contrast to other works in the "Way of Five" series, the new piece ends serenely as couples come together. "I encouraged the dancers to be very sincere, and to feel each other’s energy," Chen says, adding, "They feel a real connection."

Two new folk dances have been added to the program. As its title suggests, the "Love Song of Xishuangbana" is a duet for lovers who find themselves in an amorous paradise also suitable for Valentine’s Day. Here the dancers’ flexed wrists and gracefully curved bodies reflect the influence of the Southeast Asian dance styles.

"Young Ge," the second new dance, is a rousing group number usually performed in the fields, when farmers gather in the harvest. A specialist, professor Wei Chen of Sichuan University, has staged both folk numbers, but Nai-Ni Chen says that she also asked her dancers to participate by contributing ideas. The freedom to improvise with the folk dance steps, Western-style, Chen says, has given these dances a special beauty.

The "Chinese New Year Celebration" will also feature a musical interlude, in which the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York plays traditional instruments like the stringed "Erhu," the dulcimer-like "Yangquin" and the high-pitched, double-reed horn known as the "Souna."

"It’s all very celebratory," Chen says, "So I think the audience will enjoy it."

Robert Johnson may be reached at

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