Dance Review Commentary (as seen on 2/12/2011)
Temecula Old Town Community Theater, Temecula, CA
By Rob Appel
From their resident home at the Harlem School of the Arts in New York City (for more than 10 years), the 9-dancer Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company brought to us, one of the finest contemporary and modern dance companies to have appeared at the Temecula Old Town Community Theatre annual Dance Series. Representing the ‘grace and splendor of Asian Art’, it is indeed a pleasure to see a group of dancers, whose quality of dancer’s technique is equaled by the superb choreography of Nai-Ni Chen! What a satisfying marriage!
Opening with a welcome greeting by Temecula Artists Advocate Lauri Torok, the Nai-Ni Chen dancers presented a varied program of seven (7_ dance creations of choreographer nai-Ni Chen, to the excellent lighting designs of AC Hichcox (Rain Drops, Incense and Bamboo Prayer), Barry Steele (Peacock Dance), Susan Summers (Way of Five-Fire) and Carolyn Wong (Love Song of Xishuanbanna and Mirage). Lighting plays such a key role in the visual success of any dance – all the more so, with Nai-Ni Chen’s casting of dancers representing a round-the-world cross-section of excellent dancers – Ekaterina Chernikhova (Russia), Jamison Goodnight (US), Jung Hm Jo (Korea), Saki Masuda (Japan), Riyo Mito (Japan), Francisco Silvino (Brazil), Wei Yao (China), Min Zhou (China) and Nai-Ni Chen (China), it was a banquet of super bodies and technique!
In Rain Drops, choreographer Nai-Ni Chen has her four female dancers, bare-footed, in the very flattering-to-the-figure, paneled Chinese dresses – moving effortlessly to the music of Henry Wolff (and others), while introducing the audience to the symmetric-design of Chinese umbrellas opening-closing-twirling…what peaceful patterns of serenity. The second work, titled just Incense shared two couples in “recalling the ritual of the incense offerings at a temple”. An American female dancer (Jamison Goodnight), a Korean male dancer (Jung Hm Jo), a Japanese female dancer (Riyo Mito), and a Chinese male dancer (Wei Yao…together, in a quartet of blissful harmony of movement…very precise and restrained.
Even though each dance work presented, stood very much on its own elegance, there were a couple of stop-your-breath moments of such incredible beauty. One came with the solo piece The Peacock Dance, danced by the rather sensational Min Zhou (from China)…as she created a bird peacock…drinking water, walking, working, running and combing its feathers. (As noted) with over 55 ethnic groups in China, each with its unique traditions of dance and music, the Peacock is considered a sacred bird among the Dai people of the Yunnan Province. Min Zhou’s captivating hands and head movements left no doubt to the story she told – fabulous!
This viewer’s favorite though, was The Way of Five – Fire – in which, powerful and strong, Brazilian male dancer (Francisco Silvino) led the exploration focus into the element of fire. Both choreographed and costumed (in all red Kung-fu wardrobe) by Nai-Ni Chen, the five dancers related to the elements of wood, fire, water, metal and earth, with the extremely effective use of Chinese fans – opening and snapping-closed to the dramatic moments in the music of Tan Dun. This dance piece is very physical when needed, lyrical when called-upon, and virtually explosive in a dynamic finale to Act I.
In the second act, three works were featured – the opening Bamboo Prayer with Nai-Ni Chen herself, dancing (with four female dancers)…making most effective use of long 10-foot, very flexible bamboo poles – reflecting mankind’s nobility and virtue – symbolizing justice, strength and humiliy. Nai-Ni Chen loves to use ‘props’ as extensions of her messages. In the succeeding duet by the tall and lanky Chinese male dancer Wei Yao, and the absolutely brilliant Min Zhou…Love Song of Xishuanbanna – is inspired by a tropical zone on the Yunnan Province of Southwest China, endowed with sufficient sunshine and rainfall, which is the cradle and paradise for wildlife, as well as the habitat for more than 5,000 tropical plants…this was the resource for this very stylized dance – a young couple admiring each other in this beautiful paradise. So performed these two fine dancers in another ‘hightlight’ of the evening’s program.
The full ensemble of 9-dancers came together in the concert’s finale, simply titled Mirage to the music of Glen Velez…and, though a bit too long (could have been edited down for easier focus and consumption)…nevertheless, the Nai-Ni Chen dancers worked hard and delivered a sterling evening of quality dance. Seems much a shame that more of the SD [San Diego] dance community do not take these unique opportunities to see this quality of contemporary and modern dance.