Chen troupe pulls magic from a mix of East, West

September 27, 1994|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Special to The Sun

Beautiful, complex and lengthy were the dances in Chen & Dancers' program when the New York-based troupe performed Saturday night at Towson University.

The five-work performance at Stephens Hall Theatre was the highlight of the university's Asian Art Center exhibition "West Meets East." Choreographer H. T. Chen creates dances finely drawn from the Asian experience (both theatrically and from real life), and his dances are a magical alchemy of Asian and Western sensibilities.

The opening dance, "Double Happiness, One Hundred Sorrows," set to music by Bradley Kaus, explored the friction between the traditional arranged marriage and the modern concept of marrying for love. According to the program notes, "Double Happiness" is the calligraphic character for marriage in Chinese, and this work, set in the 1940s, details the unhappy union of one unfortunate couple.

Blending narrative and abstract elements within the dance, at times the hapless lovers were easy to read; at other times, they were caught in a stream of consciousness.

Mr. Chen's use of theatrical elements was visually intriguing: Large fans with wide silk streamers created strong imagery, yet never overpowered the first-rate dancing of the 10 performers.

The closing dance, "Opening the Gate," again performed to Mr. Kaus' lush, evocative music, was a soul-stirring work that roused many audience members to their feet.

The sound of drums, both on tape and by the performers, was the powerful aural background for the 10 performers, while great puffs of smoke punctuated the work. Here, Mr. Chen fuses the movements of martial arts with classical modern and ballet rTC techniques. As the dance progressed, groups dissolved, rolled over and merged into each other, giving the effect of watching storm-tossed waves.

As the dancing erupted into a frenetic climax, Mr. Chen transported us beyond our occidental expectations, refusing to end the work where we would expect it. Instead, he reached another plateau, and the dancers pulled from reserves of energy to give us another crescendo of leaps, until only the smoke remained, hanging in space.

Three distinctive duets rounded out the evening. A humorous excerpt from "Lemon Moon" featured Kori Darling and Jo Rosa Rio as a moon-afflicted couple.

"Spring Song," with Despina Stamos and Renouard Gee, characterized innocents at play.

"Untitled -- Work in Progress," with its aura of mystery, was danced with elegant simplicity and integrity by Naoko Katakami and Zhao Long.

The company will perform at the Kennedy Center in February.

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