on April 25, 2014 at 11:18 AM
"There are a lot of variables and unexpected things that happen," Chen says, reminiscing before her Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company’s 25th anniversary season at the Peridance Center in New York.
Musical scores may arrive at the last minute. They may be the wrong length. And while some composers will tailor their music at a choreographer’s request, others won’t change a note.
"Sometimes you don’t know the result until the very end," Chen says.
The dance maker, who lives in Fort Lee, says the benefits of working with new music played live far outweigh the challenges. In addition to stimulating her creativity with fresh sounds and ideas, "it provides so much more energy," she says, "and there is back-and-forth, like a conversation."
This weekend’s anniversary concerts will highlight some of Chen’s collaborations. On hand to help her celebrate will be composer Joan La Barbara, whose singing will accompany Chen’s "Incense" (2001); the Ahn Trio, playing the lyrical score that Kenji Bunch composed for "Grooveboxes" (2010); and percussionist Glen Velez, accompanying an excerpt from "Whirlwind" (2013). The events will also feature the premiere of "Not Alone," with the Prism Saxophone Quartet performing a commissioned score by Chen Yi.
The choreographer describes "Not Alone" as one of her most daring experiments, partly because Chen Yi’s busy schedule did not permit much give-and-take. Nai-Ni Chen began developing movement material in October, but the composer, who lives in mainland China, did not begin her work until January.
When she delivered the score it was 15 minutes long, but the choreographer had already created a half hour’s worth of dancing.
"When I got this piece of music, I was going to die," Chen says. "I thought, ‘Oh, my God. What am I going to do?’"
She says Chen Yi gave her license to "play with it." The musicians, who studied a videotape of the dance, are allowed to repeat passages of music, and as they stroll around the stage they will improvise on Chen Yi’s musical themes.
The choreographer says she was inspired by a classic Chinese poem in which the 8th-century poet, Li Bai, describes his loneliness as he walks in his garden at night. Her dance, "Not Alone," does not follow the poem exactly, but develops its images and themes.
Chen describes the work as a "mindscape" haunted by shadows, in which some dancers sit isolated while others nearby illustrate their thoughts. "Very often, when we are alone we are not really quiet," she says. "So many things go through your mind. It’s like water is running through while you are sitting still. Even when you are sleeping, your mind never stops moving."
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