By Maddie Orton
“China was based on the agricultural society for centuries, so of course during the springtime is a very important season,” explained company choreographer and artistic director Nai-Ni Chen. “And the Chinese New Year has been the most important celebration for Chinese people.”
There are dozens of ethnic groups across China, so in this annual performance, Chen includes a variety of folk dances and music that she’s picked up from other artists and members of the company.
Chen says she wants to give audiences the full holiday experience, so paper-cutting demonstrations greet visitors before the show and an authentic multi-course feast is available afterward. There are also traditional elements Chen has found her New Year’s performances can’t do without.
“People do get upset if we don’t do the Lion Dance,” said Chen. “The Lion Dance, it’s a very important dance to be performed during the Chinese New Year because it kind of brings people luck.”
Chen also tries to tie part of the annual performance to the new year’s zodiac sign. For this Year of the Monkey, she’s excited to bring in esteemed guest artist Gu Feng. He’s performed the role of the legendary Monkey King with Beijing Kunqu Opera all over the world.
Much of the dance company’s audience is American-born, but for those who have emigrated from China, the annual program is extra special.
“Because you don’t really get to celebrate it,” said Chen of the New Year. “You know, you’re out of your own country, and you don’t hear the firecrackers…but you come to the show, and in a way, it’s a way to enjoy Chinese New Year.”
Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company will perform its Year of the Monkey program this weekend at NJPAC.