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Crossing Boundaries: New Music for Dance in China

To present Joan La Barbara and Nai-Ni Chen's working process to Chinese choreographers and musicians in Beijing and Guangdong.

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Final Posting for Crossing Boundaries

Posted on August 21, 2014 by Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company

Nai-Ni and I met several times to prepare and plan the content and flow of our workshops focusing on composer/choreographer collaborations and the similarities between dance and musical form and structure.  We began with an overview of the history of dance and music in cultural settings, ceremonies and celebrations to relate creation stories and teach behavioral lessons, citing examples from India, Indonesia, Africa and China.  We discussed dance forms that were used in European court life and played specific musical examples.  We identified simple forms and created exercises in which the dancers created movement patterns.  We then played different music with these dances to demonstrate how music affects our perception of the movement.  Starting with the simple repeating pattern of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” in which additional instruments were added one at a time to the initial vocal loops, and moving to the interlocking rhythms of Steve Reich’s “Piano Phase” and La Barbara’s “Snowbird’s Dance, Into the Light and Beyond”, we discussed rhythmic complexity and instrumentation.  Using Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood”, we illustrated how rhythmic patterns can shift emphasis and accent when a new pattern is introduced, building one note at a time.  We also illustrated examples of pattern, developing and embellishment with music by Beethoven, Bach and Chopin.

The overall structure of the workshops involved having the dancers create short choreographic works for solos, duos, trios and then moving on to large group forms.  We overlaid various “classical” as well as contemporary music (chosen specifically to demonstrate an array of stylistic compositions) onto the dances, discussing the affect of vastly different energies and moods.

We also discussed our own process of working together, developing movement and music modules, adjusting and editing them and ultimately expanding them into full-length choreographic works.  Over the nearly two decades that we wave worked together, Nai-Ni and I have created five full-length works utilizing chamber ensemble, several of them with support from Live Music for Dance.  Our experiences generating and developing these pieces has given us depth and insight into the collaborative process.

The workshops culminated by showing excerpts of several of Nai-Ni’s choreographic works done in collaboration with composers Kenji Bunch, Joan La Barbara and Glen Velez and discussions about the dynamic energy of counterpoint, contrast, spatial relationships and unity.

More Updates ▼

Joan and Nai-Ni giving class at Beijing LDTX Dance Studio

Posted on August 17, 2014 by Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company

Introducing New Music to Young Chinese Choreographers!

New Music for New Dance at Beijing LDTX

Posted on August 16, 2014 by Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company

A groundbreaking experience.

Dancer and Composer in the Forbidden City

Posted on August 16, 2014 by Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company

Nai-Ni Chen and Joan La Barbara with Chairman Mao


The Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, in collaboration with the Guangdong Modern Dance Company is working on introducing American New Music to emerging Chinese choreographers and composers in Beijing and Guangdong through the Beijing Modern Dance Festival and the Guangdong Modern Dance Company.

Nai-Ni Chen and Joan La Barbara are invited to the Beijing Modern Dance Festival and to the Guangdong Modern Dance Company  to conduct two 2-day workshops on Live Music/Dance collaboration.  One at the Beijing Modern Dance Festival, and another workshop at the Guangdong Modern Dance Company in Guangzhou.



Project Media

Isle of Dunes
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An Octet for 4 female and 4 male dancers with music composed by Joan La Barbara and performed by Joan La Barbara and the Ne(x)twork Ensemble and set design by Myung Hee Cho. The production was commissioned by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Alternate Root Festival. Isle of Dunes is part of Nai-Ni Chen’s “American Landscape” series.

Incense (Excerpt)
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This dance was originally inspired by the sculpture titled Nine Muses by Carlos Dorian installed at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ. She also draws ideas from the offering of incense in the long corridors of an ancient temple in her childhood. The raising white clouds of the incense is said to bring the believer’s prayer from their hearts to god’s ears. The music reminds her of the mystical elements of nature and the more abstract, formal elements that gives structure to our faith and thus our lives. Music composed by Joan La Barbara.

Dragons on the Wall
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Dragons on the Wall is a collaborative work created by Choreographer Nai-Ni Chen, Poet Bei Dao, Composer Joan La Barbara and Designer Shen Chen. Based on the poem and the history of the struggle of the Chinese people. This work was commissioned by NJPAC in 2001. Danced by Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company

Start and End Dates



Beijing & Guangdong, CHINA

4 updates
Last update on August 21, 2014

Project Created By

Fort Lee, New Jersey
One of the few the professional dance companies In the United States to be led by an Asian-American woman, the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company has been developing new works for the past twenty-five years. Ms. Chen, formerly a principle dancer from Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Company, established her own Company in 1988 in Fort Lee, NJ with a mission…

In Collaboration With

New York, New York


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