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Silk Road experience inspires dance like the wind

By Caroline Berg (China Daily)

08:22, April 22, 2013

Dancers of the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company perform Whirlwind, based on choreographer Nai-Ni Chen's experience traveling the Silk Road in China. (China Daily/Joseph Wagner)

Nai-Ni Chen went to China's Silk Road and got caught in a whirlwind. The mosaic of cultures and nature she observed on a summer of travel inspired her to choreograph a contemporary dance embodying the spirit of this ancient trade route.

"Whirlwind is the cultures, art, energies and people coming from different parts of the world and somehow meeting here on the Silk Road and intertwined," the Taiwan native choreographer and artistic director of Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company says. "I refer back to the whirlwind - this natural phenomenon in the desert - and use that as a starting point to move the language and set the structure for the dance."

Whirlwind is the product of two years of planning and collaboration. The two-part, hour long dance incorporates eight men and women dancers from the United States, Italy, Russia and South Korea, as well as original music by percussionist Glen Velez and visual art by Jayanthi Moorthy of India.

During the New York premiere at Salvatore Capezio Theater at Peridance, with two performances over the weekend, partially unclad dancers in silk earth-toned costumes glistened with sweat from the fluctuating, and sometimes acrobatic, movements.

"I try to explore contrasts in terms of rhythm and dynamics," Chen says. "Like when you listen to music with one instrument on top of another or if you look at the many components in nature that overlap, you'll see layers of movement that overlap with the dancers."

The dance employs trance, rhythmic breathing and spiral motions to emulate the shape and energy of a desert whirlwind. It also adopts from traditional characters like Mongolian horsemen and flying eagles as well as the celebratory movements of the Uygur people.

"There are a lot of folk elements in these dances," Chen says. "Folk dancing is very beautiful. It doesn't matter which culture the folk dancing is from, it represents the human spirit, it comes from the people. It's a great inspiration."

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