Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dance review: Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company brings studies of movement to Kutztown University

Dance review: Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company brings studies of movement to Kutztown University

Dancers' eyes, arms and spirits reached upward, ever upward, as the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company brought its unique set pieces, tableaux and celebrations of movement to Kutztown University on Tuesday night. The performance in Schaeffer Auditorium was part of the Kutztown University Presents series.

The eight dancers, including Nai-Ni Chen herself, who danced a transporting solo tribute to her Chinese heritage in "Passage to the Silk River," swirled, pirouetted, pranced and seemed to make their bodies move in two directions at once through seven works, all choreographed by Chen.

These were studies in movement of all kinds.

In "Incense," four members of the troupe - Jamison Goodnight, Jung Hm Jo, Riyo Mito and Wei Yao - danced separately and together, their bodies arching and ramrod straight, sometimes touching without quite touching, arms akimbo and fluidly waving. Their white costumes became incense itself.

Moto and Francisco Silvino seemed to be floating in "Duet on the River of Dreams." Silvino wielded a rattan pole to push them across the water as she writhed around the oar, all the while reaching upward.

He finally shared it with her, the oar becoming a pathway between two sensibilities. There were
moments when their bodies paralleled the oar in peaceful symmetry.

The finale, "Mirage," evoked Matisse's "Dance," his seminal work from 1910. The entire company, Chen included, danced in this feral tribute to the Uyghur people of Xinjiang province in western China.

The piece opened with a triptych: two pairs of two dancers and a trio, each creating a different mood to the whistling, sighing electronic music by Glen Velez. The dancers stopped and started, seemingly simultaneously, creating the effect of a body moving in a strobe light - without the strobe - for a rhapsodic study in staccato and legato.

Chen's demanding choreography required movements that seemed to defy anatomy. Hips loosened, shoulders seemed to dislocate and waists defied the limits of torsion.

As stirring as the dancing were the music and the lighting, especially that of A.C. Hickox, whose lighting design added a poetically intimate atmosphere to the first three dances. Her dramatic ending to "Raindrops," using a fading blue light that cloaked the four dancers, lent a sense of formal control over the piece, even as the music died away and the blue disappeared into darkness. It was a chilling moment.

The music joined the lighting as an integral part of the performance. Electronica, whispers, percussive elements, birds chirping and the sounds of the jungle swirled about the dancers as their own swirling arms created contours beyond mere torsos and backs.

Braiding harmony and dissonance, joy and melancholy, fluidity and angularity, Nai-Ni Chen brings a singular voice to the world of dance. We are fortunate to have seen her here.

Contact John Fidler at 610-371-5054610-371-5054 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting or

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