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Nai-Ni Chen

“Spiritual Choreographer” -Dance Magazine

“A rare modern dance choreographer…”-NY Times

Nai-Ni Chen comes from a rich dance tradition. She was a renowned traditional dancer in Taiwan and served on several ambassadorial culture missions to nineteen countries around the world. An early member of the Cloud Gate Dance Theater in Taiwan, she graduated from the Chinese Cultural University in 1982 and came to America to seek her own voice in the world of contemporary dance. Since the inception of her Company in 1988, Ms. Chen has created a wide-ranging repertory, from dances that originated thousands of years ago to highly abstract, modern works. Ms. Chen has received a two-year Choreographer’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is also a three time recipient of the Choreographer’s Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Her work has also been commissioned by the Joyce Theater Foundation, the Lincoln Center Institute, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Dancing in the Streets, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. She has taught master classes at colleges and universities throughout the United States and at dance festivals in Russia, Poland, Taiwan and China. Besides creating dances for her own Company, she has choreographed the opera Turandot for both the Westfield Symphony’s production at the PNC Center and the Boheme Opera Company’s production at War Memorial Hall in Trenton, New Jersey. As a guest choreographer, she created Unconquered Warrior for Dancing Wheels Company of Cleveland, Ohio. She was one of the choreographers for Ballet Met’s 30×30 project in Columbus, Ohio. Ms. Chen also completed a new ballet, The Three Riddles of Turandot for New Jersey Ballet in 2009. In New York, she has taught at Mary Anthony Dance Studio, Peridance and New York University, where she received her MA in Dance and Dance Education. She has been a principal affiliate artist of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center since its inception. On television, Ms. Chen is an often-featured artist on PBS/NJN’s State of the Arts. For her contribution to the community, she has won rewards from New Jersey International Institute, NJ Organization of Chinese Americans. She also received the Cultural Ambassador award from the NJ Chinese American Chamber of Commerce.

 Nai-Ni Chen Salon Interview


Artistic Vision

I am an immigrant Asian American choreographer, I feel the need to explore the resilience, will power and strength that I see in my community and communicate it to everyone. At the same time, I derive immense joy of passing the tradition that I inherited to my audience and the next generation. The extreme differences and commonalities in the traditional Chinese and contemporary American cultures that I embody offers a wellspring of inspiration. A greater capacity to embrace the experience, and work towards blazing a path to advance a more equal, inclusive and artistic future has become my mission.

Today, I am creating contemporary works that address the issues of personal, artistic and spiritual freedom that lies in the core of being an immigrant artist. I often incorporate folk rhythms, ritual and visual elements in my dance because not only I want to advance the state of the art, but also to tap into the living energy from the past that is shaping our future everyday.

Selected Quotes

of Nai-Ni Chen


“The Chinese traditional dance – The training I had since I was four years old – involves the entire culture, not just the dance steps.  The Western modern dance I learned is not just Martha Graham technique or a Jose Limon technique; to me it is the entire way of thinking, the freedom, the expression of it.  Besides learning the two different dance cultures, I tried to learn how Western people think, and how Chinese people think.”


“When I first visited America, I felt a sense of freedom.  As I walk on the street, I can feel the energy of this freedom.  I knew this energy will help me to grow in my artistic endeavor.”

“a characteristic of Chinese traditional dance is multi-layered circular movements.  The floor patterns also tend to be circular…  My work is also influenced by visual art, so I tend to use both positive and negative space to create contrasting dynamics on stage.”

“What I express is the balance between yin and yang – which is the soft quality and the strong quality, the heavy and the light, the two extremes in multiple dimensions.”


Principal Affiliate Statement

for NJ Performing Art Center

Since I was a child, the floating cloud in the sky often touched me.  It was the wondrous shapes they made as they were blown by the wind.  And when I heard the powerful sound the pine forest made in the wind, it fascinated me.   Off the coast of Keelong (a city in Taiwan) where I grew up, I also remembered watching schools of tropical fish swimming in the blue water forming diverse patterns and color which made me want to join their joyful dance right there.  As I grew older, I loved the mountain.  Its magnificent strength embodies the power of the earth, and all the living things around it.  In our life, everyday is a fascinating journey of discovery.  Each discovery we make has a significant influence on our future.

As I looked back, I realized how much an impact the surrounding has made on me as an artist.  And now, when I walk on the streets in America, I feel the enormous freedom and vitality of the people of this land.  That’s what nourishes me for the past fifteen years.  My dance reflects what I am and how I feel about the world.   I believe dance is a way to express the passion of life in all of us.  An expression beyond words; it can cross cultural boundaries and be shared by all people.