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Nai-Ni Chenís Unbroken Thread

 Nai-Ni Chen’s Unbroken Thread

                      by R. Pikser


Watching dance on a screen too often undercuts the very energy that makes dance a pleasure.  But sometimes the screen brings something new to a piece.  In this instance, Nai-Ni Chenís Unbroken Thread, originally performed in 2003 and now seen on the screen, is improved by the medium.  The idea behind the piece is that the dancers and, by extension, the rest of us, are caught in the web of existence.  We are all connected by this thread from before our birth, throughout the experiences of life, until our death and rebirth.


The lighting by A. C. Hickox, generally dark, focuses our attention by putting light exactly where the designer wants it to be and nowhere else, as Robert Edmond Jones admonishes.  Not only the lighting, but the camera work by Penny Ward, and the editing by Ms. Chen herself, direct our focus.   We see this thigh, that arm, a back, so that the dancers appear almost disembodied as we see them at first climbing, or perhaps caught in, the suspended rope basket-like, or trap-like sculpture, designed by Myung Hee Cho with assistance from Mikiko Suzuki.


After a while, we are permitted to see the floor below the sculpture where we see other dancers, trying to move beyond the space where they are, though they cannot because they are attached by longer or shorter ropes wrapped around their waists to the larger sculpture.


The music, created for this piece by Jason Kao Hwang, who is also the violin soloist, begets its own, parallel world of extended, attenuated sounds, much like a thread, and might be called otherworldly, except that it conveys the travails of this world as we see the dancers struggling or, occasionally, reveling in their movement as they come together or persist on their own.

In different sections of the piece the rope is presented differently.  If it forms a trap in the first section, later on it seems malleable, perhaps controllable, as the dancers bend and shape their ropes; however, they are still attached.  Sometimes the rope is represented by a scarf and seems softer.  But it is always there, attaching the dancer to itself or attaching the dancers to each other.


In the final section, which Ms. Chen likens to a funeral procession, the rope is enormous and apparently very heavy, as we see the dancers using a lot of energy to carry it as they progress on their journey.  In this section the dancers they help each other in their task.  The rope has become a connection, not only a limitation or something to struggle against.  Throughout the piece, in spite of some sections of flinging motion, time seems slow and enduring, paralleling the flow of life, or perhaps the way life pulls us along without our volition.


Unbroken Thread, especially in this very focused presentation, is a most appropriate piece for this time when we are all especially aware of our mortality and our days can seem long and our time fleeting.


Nai-Ni Chen

December 5th, 2020


Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company

Contact:  Michelle Tabnick