Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company The Year of the Rabbit

Victoria Theater, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark, NJ
February 5 and 6, 2011

A Review

Happy New Year indeed. The afternoon concert was indeed celebratory. My head is really so full of sticks and ribbons and lions and dragons that I feel almost tipsy from it all.

Lion Dance, obligatory to begin the New Year, began the program with the familiar and satisfactory windings and noddings, and was followed by the Mongolian Chopstick Dance, an intriguing ladies’ quintet led by Nai-Ni herself, and arranged by Sarna Paraborrow. The program notes “circular gestures and shoulder movements . . . are a hint of Mongolian life on horseback,” and I would add that the clip-clop of the bundled sticks in the dancers hands resemble the sound of horses hooves. Both dances speak volumes of the culture we celebrate.

Bamboo Prayer

Photo: Carol Rosegg ~ Digital editing:

The familiar Duet on the River of Dreams, part of a the full-length dance drama White Mountain Black Water, does not credit Ms. Chen with the choreography (as I believe it should). It is a dance of mystic journey, which needs to be lit with more mystery to compliment its motion.Only once does the movement break the spell. That is when the male dancer breaks from the aesthetic of the dance to perform some school balletmovements that have no relation to the narrative of the dance.

Yao-Zhong Zhang presented Lu Wen-Long, The Double Spear Warior, which he arranged from the presentation of the Shanghai Kunque Company. Yoa-Zhong is a mature and accomplished dancer and his presentation is solid.

The Love Song of Xishuangbanna, choreographed by Nai Ni Chen, suffers a bit from occasional breaks into western ballet steps.I really have nothing against such steps, but they must be nuanced by the intention of the ballet and here they are not.

But Nai-Ni did not have this problem in following The Way of Five – “Fire.” This performance of Nai Ni’s dance with fans was superb. The choreography has been tightened since I last saw it. The movement and sound of fans, the lithe bodies making it happen, and the structured paths all meld to make this a great spectator experience.

We were really ready for intermission.

The second part of the program opened with Nai-Ni’s Bamboo Prayer, performed by five female dancers with flexible rattan poles, who moved about waving those twelve foot spears. Of course, there was floor design and interchanging places, but I couldn’t really see a growth of design.

David M. Liao presented three folks songs with pianist Linda Xia.Wei Yau danced around the piano and singer for the second song.There were three young ladies, fourth graders, sitting in front of me, and perhaps their comment was best. They drank from their water bottles in time with the music, thus telling me that they felt the performance.

The Dragon Dance, of course, and ribbon dancing ended the celebration—altogether enjoyable and celebratory. Who cares about rough spots? All in all Nai-Ni Chi and company, Ekaterina Chernikhova, Jamison Goodnght, Jung Hm Jo, Justin Lynch, Saki Masuda, Riyo Mito, Francisco Silvino, Wei Yao, Yao-Zhong Zhang, and Min Zhou, gave a good performance to an appreciative audience. Live and Learn and Enjoy the Year of the Rabbit.

—Ruth Grauert, February 5, 2011