River of Dreams (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company

Ailey Citigroup Theater, New York City
May 23 and 24, 2008

A Review

Ms. Chen’s dancers can dance. Very seldom did I see a misstep; the costuming, with one exception, is contributory to idea; and the music, should it stand alone, is most “listenable.”

This was a long evening. With the exception of On the River of Dreams, which uses a 10-foot pole prop and tells a motion-story of a long journey; each dance is in movement so similar to the last that the evening seemed to be one long, undisturbed flow. This need not have been. This impression is partly due to unimaginative lighting that failed to augment Ms. Chen’s vision, and to the fact that the music, although each piece is distinct, stems from the same aesthetic. In addition, a great deal of this sameness is due to Ms. Chen’s continuous display of her dancers’ eclectic facility. They are adept at “heel-toe” walking-running. They are great at what might be termed “contact improvisation.” Their leaps, and turns, their port de bras (and hands)—all faultless. But each dance lacks that “unique gesture,” that singular motion, which would distinguish one from the other. Then, too, some of the sameness seems to stem from the fact that Ms. Chen uses the sounds of the music to provoke the motion rather than, on occasion, the motion to provoke the sound. And I can’t recall a sound-motion “conversation.”

There is one beautiful vision I retain—the lovely translucent parasols in Raindrops. They are a brief vision, because sadly their vision potential fades into more great technical display. Certainly Ms. Chen saw their fine delicacy. I am sure she is capable of building on such a vision and I wish she would.

The theater itself has a steeply raked auditorium and is so “stepped” that one cannot extend his or her legs. At intermission I moved to the tech bench above the last row to restore my wiggle room.

—Ruth Grauert, May 23, 2008

P.S. Weather permtting, one can sit on a stone bench outside the theater and watch an Ailey class.