Drawing on elements from the flowing lines of Chinese calligraphy to the thundering motion of the martial arts, Nai-Ni Chen is one of the very few established Asian-American choreographers who meld the dynamic freedom of American modern dance with the stoic discipline of the Chinese classical arts. Through the more than 50 dances she has created since forming the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company in 1988, Ms. Chen has developed a unique style that takes audiences into a realm beyond cultural boundaries.Ms. Chen has received a two-year Choreographer’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and has twice received a Choreographer’s Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Her work has been commissioned by many foundations and institutions, including the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Joyce Theater, the Lincoln Center Institute, Dancing in the Streets in New York, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and, recently, Dancing Wheels of Cleveland, Ohio, and Ballet Met of Columbus, Ohio, among others.Winning critical acclaim worldwide, her works have been presented at more than 200 art centers and universities in the United States and at international festivals in Mexico, Germany, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and Korea, and in China, where in 2002 Ms. Chen received the prized Golden Lotus Award.
Ms. Chen comes from a rich dance tradition. Born in Taiwan, she began her training in Chinese dance at age four and, from the age of fourteen, received intensive training in the disciplines of Peking Opera, martial arts, ballet, modern dance, music, and visual arts at the Chinese Cultural University. She became an outstanding performer at an early age and, during her college years, toured and performed with numerous professional companies. When she was eighteen, the government of the Republic of China selected Ms. Chen for several ambassadorial culture missions to perform traditional Chinese dance in nineteen countries, including a one-month engagement at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway in New York. Later, as an early member of the Cloud Gate Dance Theater directed by Lin Huai-Ming, Ms. Chen broadened and enriched her dance experience. In 1982, she graduated from the Chinese Cultural University with special presidential honors awarded by its Board of Trustees. She then determined to come to the United States to pursue her dream of seeking her own voice in the world of contemporary dance.
In New York, Ms. Chen studied with many dance masters and was exposed to various modern dance styles, including those of Martha Graham, José Limon, Alwin Nikolais, and Paul Taylor. She also studied choreography at New York University with Doris Rudko and worked with Mary Anthony and Bertram Ross, who significantly influenced her dedication to her pursuit. After receiving her Master’s degree in 1985, Ms. Chen began to integrate the different idioms of dance that she’d studied, seeking the unique style that would be representative of her inspiration and heritage. In 1988, she formed her Company, whose success is evidenced by its having been presented by major arts centers in more than 35 states and abroad.
In addition to performing, Ms. Chen has taught master classes at many colleges and festivals in the United States and in Poland, Russia, Taiwan, and China. \ She has taught at New York University, Rutgers University, the Mary Anthony Dance Studio, and Peridance, she also has been a principal affiliate artist of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center since its inception. For K–12 Arts in Education, Ms. Chen has taken her Company to many public schools throughout the tri-state area for long-term residencies, including the most recent ones at PS 184 in New York City and Project Poetry Live in Litchfield, Connecticut. For her achievement in performing arts and dedication to arts education, Ms. Chen has received numerous awards, including the Achievement Award from the International Institute of New Jersey in 2001, and from the Organization of Chinese Americans in 1996. On television, Ms. Chen is an often-featured artist on PBS/NJN’s “State of the Arts.”
“Like Visual Poetry, Chen’s phrases, part exoskeletal rigidity, part boneless grace, embody an epic dignity.” — Village Voice