How this NJ dance troupe turned pandemic fears into a joyful performance
With the New York skyline as a backdrop, Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company Closes Weehawken’s summer concerts on the Hudson series this Friday.
The free event at Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center tackles a heavy subject: the pandemic. Don’t worry, however, it won’t be a depressing evening.
âShadow Forceâ is a 25-minute dance featuring six dancers reacting âdifferently to the isolation situation and those feelings translated into movement,â Chen told NJ Advance Media. “I think there are unknown forces we are facing right now – the isolation of the division and the insecurity.”
The dancers working together “imagine that love and connection will help us and come out of the shadows with struggles,” she adds.
Performing during sunset should add a special touch to the show which, weather permitting, starts at 7pm.
âYou will see the light change with the sunset as the background continually shifts completely in the dark and only sees the light on the dancers on stage,â Chen explains. âVisually, it will be beautiful and dramatic. “
The 90-minute performance, which features Chen’s signature steps of traditional Chinese dance mixed with modern dance, includes other numbers evoking different moods, including joy.
âI’m going to open with a dance called ‘Raindrops’, a really beautiful female quartet,â Chen says. âI like the evening to have something pleasant and sweet. I don’t want that pain. I want to show light and hope.
âRaindropsâ was triggered by memories of Chen’s childhood in northern Taiwan, where it rains frequently. She describes this dance as soft and playful and leads to “Shadow Force”. The evening ends with âEmissary of Lightâ, a solo.
Chen won’t play. At 61, she describes herself as semi-retired but continues to teach and choreograph. Like so many dancers, Chen first entered a dance class at the age of 4.
She studied traditional Chinese dance and later Western forms, including modern dance. At 18, Chen was on tour, and at 22, he emigrated from Taiwan after earning a BFA in dance at Taiwan University of Chinese Culture.
At NYU, she earned a master’s degree in dance education. Decades ago, she and her husband decided to make New Jersey their home.
âI need personal space,â Chen explains. âAcross the river, I heard sirens all the time. As an artist, I need space. I need to hear the birds. I went through New Jersey, and I can see birds, trees. We have deer in the yard. And as an artist, I could think, I could create.
The company is in residence at University of the City of New Jersey in Jersey City. During the pandemic, Chen worked with dancers on Zoom.
As the performance at Weehawken marks the end of the summer concert season on the Hudson, Nai-Ni Dance Chen Dance Company is also performing at Montclair on Saturday at Dance party on the lawn.
She is delighted to give the free concerts.
âDancing is still not as popular as music, movies, and sports,â Chen acknowledges. âSport is number one in this country. For me, as a dancing person, I would like to have the whole world to enjoy dancing. I am a messenger. I want to keep playing and representing my work around the world. While it is free, it is accessible to everyone. It is no longer the elite.
When she visited the Hudson River Performing Arts Center, Chen liked to see families “watch the shows and get together as a family.” This neighborhood is very diverse, and you see all kinds of people, and they all come together for that. And what can be more powerful to bring family and all the arts together? “
After a year and a half, which has seen the horrific increase in hate crimes against Asians, Chen notes that she came to America because she historically embraced immigrants. In 40 years in the United States, she had never witnessed such a division. By presenting the dance, she hopes to foster cultural understanding.
âIn a performance, you see how different countries come together, and it can cross cultural boundaries, and when it’s beautiful, people forget the difference,â Chen says. âThey don’t look at me, ‘Oh, you’re Asian.’ Dancing is universal, and when you express it as a human, it doesn’t matter where you come from.
“Shadow Force”, performed by the Nai-Ni Chen dance company
Friday at 7 p.m.
Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center, 1200 Harbor Blvd, Weehawken
Free entry, bring a chair or blanket
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