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Flash Review 2, 5-6: Spring Celebration
Ringing in the Season with Nai-Ni Chen

By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2000 Peggy H. Cheng

Last night at the Clark Studio Theater (at Lincoln Center, in the Rose Building), Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company helped to usher in the warm weather with a program entitled "Spring Celebration."

The evening opened with a rush of color and sound in "White Mountain/Black Water," a piece inspired by the history of the land between Korea and China where, according to the program notes, "the people are known for their bold and enduring quality." Proud and strong men and women traveled across the space, all fists and flexed feet, often touching and using the "earth" below their feet. At one point, they pinholed and planted seeds held between their thumbs and forefingers, careful yet firm. Muscular duets lifted people up towards the sky, to scan the mountain range. One section was almost martial in style, the ensemble -- led by Nai-Ni Chen with particular graceful strength, going through a series of movements over and over -- reminding me of martial arts sequences. There was color throughout: bright celebratory scarves in the finale dance of joy; the earth tones of the peasants; the rosy pink of a maiden (Ha-Yan Kim) on a boat with a tall barechested man (Gabriel Hernan). The articulation of hands and feet amidst flying rushes of color and limbs; one sensed inspiration in the urgent and beautiful movements. Ms. Chen seems to have found a treasure trove of material in "White Mountain/Black Water." The piece was additionally enlivened by the live accompaniment of the Hanulsori Korean Percussion Ensemble playing the works of composers Harry Lee and Forrest Fang.

Second on the program came two sections in a larger work-in-progress, "Dragons on the Wall." The piece is to be based on conversations between the choreographer, Ms. Chen, and a Nobel Literature Prize winning poet, Bei Dao. Mr. Dao was exiled from China in the 1970's for his political activities. The first section, "Love Letters," was about the inability to express love. Certainly the duets were about being unable to connect: A woman on her belly suddenly arches and reaches with her feet towards a man in front of her in a contorted and desperate effort to make contact; a woman reaches behind her but is unable to turn. The following section was "Walking on the Edge," in which five people tentatively approached the audience in their individual lanes, gasping for air, maybe gasping to hold something in, or let something out? The music, with live reading and vocalizing from composer Joan LaBarbara, evoked a haunted place, perhaps underground or in a cave. In any case, it was a dark place which these people inhabited; there is a sense that they are lost behind an impenetrable force field and unable to express anything, and for now that seems to be where they end, too.

Last on the program was the one premiere of the evening. Very playful and bright (candy-colored unitards by Hilary Blumenthal), this piece was inspired by carousels which Ms. Chen saw while in Europe. "Carousel Divertimento," to jazz music played by the Turtle Island String Quartet, was in fact quite jazzy. Mixed in to the plucky duets were moments of sensuality. As big, swooshy moves flew across the stage, cute prances, skips, and gallops evoked the multi-colored carousel horses while lighting designer A.C. Hickox (lighting design for the entire evening) provided a spiralling circle of light centerstage for the dancers to revolve on. Very much a vehicle of high energy, "Carousel Divertimento" provided a light and happy entertainment to end the evening.

Also dancing last night were I-Fang Huang, Ya-Chih Chuang, Edgar Cortes, Chien-Hui Shen, and Shanti Guirao.

Nai-Ni Chen's Spring Celebration continues tonight at 8 p.m. and tomorrow at 3 p.m. Sunday's performance is sold-out.


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