Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Nai-Ni Chen's WHIRLWIND @ Peridance

Oberon's Grove (written by Philip Gardner)

 Photo by James Wagner
Sunday April 6th, 2013 matinee - At Peridance today, Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company presented the second of tw
o performances of 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.

Opening with the dancers standing in stillness, WHIRLWIND is from start to finish greatly enhanced by its  lighting (Carrie Wood) and costuming (Anna-Alisa Belous)...and some richly-textured projections (Jayanthi Moorthy) in Part II.  Composer Glen Velez has created a magical tapestry of sound, evoking the Eastern realms with music that is at once seductive and soulful: swaying rhythms, delicate dreamlike themes, mystic chanting, bursts of dynamic - almost primitive - energy. At times, the dancers are called upon to participate vocally, recalling for me an early rehearsal I attended where the composer was teaching them their rhythmic patterns. (The roster of dancers is quite different now from that day in 2011.)

In this musical and visual setting, it's the dancers who transform this history lesson/travel diary into an immediate and marvelous contemporary dance experience. There are eight dancers in the Company but such are the shifting patterns of this well-constructed work that we sometimes have the illusion of a much larger number of people moving in the space. The boys are bare-chested, the women in gossamer trousers in subdued earthtones. From the moment they break out of their initial solemn pose, these remarkable dancers bring passionate commitment to every move.

WHIRLWIND unfolds in two sections with a brief pause between. Sweeping us along in movement that veers from meditative to fiercely athletic, the dancers delve into the choreographic richness with great technical assurance and boundless individual charisma. Of the current troupe, only Ekaterina Chernikhova and Jung Hm Jo are familiar to me from the Company's previous performances though I know Greta Campo from her work with choreographer Danielle Schulz.

Ensemble passages flow freely into smaller movement modules; there are numerous solos (everyone has ample opportunity to shine), and there are some beautiful partnering passages, notable a spotlit duet for Ekaterina with Daniel Johnson set to a deep, earthy chant. Rituals are evoked, and there's a male quartet expressing both brotherhood and hints of the combative. An entree with the girls in high lifts makes a stunning impression - something to savour visually - but the music and dance surge ever onward.

Along with Ekaterina and Greta, Eun Kyung Hong and Sabrina Jaafar made beautiful impressions every moment they were onstage. The fluent power and grace of the four well-contrasted male dancers - Jung Hm Jo, James Johnson, Daniel Johnson and Yoo Sik Kim - continually thrilled us with their effortless athleticism and magnetic personalities. With great generosity of spirit, these eight dancers made the afternoon a thoroughly satisfying experience.

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