Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company celebrates Lunar New Year in Flushing

By Stephanie Meditz

The Dragon Dance is one of Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company’s signature works.

On Feb. 5 at 3 p.m., Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company will ring in the new year at the Kupferberg Center for the Arts in Flushing. 

Although the company has celebrated Lunar New Year in Queens for over a decade, this year’s performance is special — 2023 marks both the year of the water rabbit and the 50th anniversary of hip-hop dance. 

In addition to its signature blend of contemporary dance and traditional Chinese dance, the company integrates hip-hop into this year’s routines. 

Choreographer and Director of New and Contemporary Dance PeiJu Chien-Pott collaborated with hip-hop legends Kwikstep and Rokafella on a modernized Lion Dance. 

“A traditional Lion Dance will also be included in the program, but this year, it’s a new Lion Dance…the Lion is dancing with hip-hop beats composed by DJ Kwikstep, a legendary hip-hop artist,” she said. “Two dancers will be wearing a traditional lion costume, a lion head, cape and pants. Visual-wise, it’s a lion, but movement-wise, it’s hip-hop movement with traditional steps. It’s a combination of both…we’re really looking forward to the premiere.” 

This collaboration was new territory for Chien-Pott, who is trained in classical ballet and was a principal dancer for the Martha Graham Dance Company for eight years. 

“I was putting myself in a completely new zone…not only to try something new but also to stimulate myself to expand my movement vocabulary, artistic-wise,” she said, “It’s a collaborative effort, we respect each other. I respect their expertise in hip-hop and they respect my expertise in the contemporary dance field…At the same time, I try very hard not to lose the traditional Lion Dance form…It’s constantly finding a perfect balance to fit into three areas: hip-hop, modern dance and traditional Chinese form.” 

The company will also perform celebratory routines with vibrant costumes, such as YungHe (Harvest Song), a Peacock Dance and a traditional Dragon Dance, its signature work. 

The Peacock Dance is a well-beloved celebratory piece that the company will perform.

“We kept the tradition of the signature repertory, including a Dragon Dance, the Coin Dance and also some other signature works of Nai-Ni Chen,” Chien-Pott said. “But also, through years of her development, creativity-wise, each year we added one or two contemporary repertoires that she created in recent years. So each year, there’s at least one or two premieres of new works or new collaborations with different artists.” 

In addition to the hip-hop twist on the Lion Dance, this year’s celebration will feature a work entitled “Dragon Cipher,” that Nai-Ni Chen began to develop in 2017.

The cast consists of three hip-hop dancers and four company members who specialize in its blend of contemporary and traditional Chinese dance.

“This work is a perfect marriage to combine Chinese contemporary dance and hip-hop dance movement,” Chien-Pott said. “Other than the movement itself, it expresses the East and West culture embracing each other to form a unity.” 

This year celebrates the year of the rabbit in the Chinese zodiac, which is a symbol of abundance. 

“The rabbit is considered gentle, kind and peaceful, but the rabbit also can move very fast,” Chien-Pott said. “The storyline is that the emperor announces that whoever can attend his birthday first will be the first zodiac sign. The rabbit was arriving first, but no other animals were there before him, so he was waiting and fell asleep. The rat, ox and tiger were literally arriving at the emperor’s birthday party when the rabbit woke up.”

This tale explains why the rabbit is the fourth sign of the zodiac. 

Other performances will include two instrumental pieces by The Chinese Music Ensemble of New York. 

“Queens has a lot of Chinese community, especially Flushing. Other than Canal St. in Manhattan, Flushing is the second biggest Chinese community, particularly in Queens,” she said. 

Tickets for the performance are available for $15 at

Queens College professor premieres “Action Songs/Protest Dances”

Telling stories of racial injustice through dance

By Stephanie Meditz

After a two-year creative process conducted via Zoom, Kupferberg Center for the Arts will host the world premiere of Edisa Weeks’ “Action Songs/Protest Dances.”

“Action Songs/Protest Dances” is a live performance that combines original music by Martha Redbone, Spirit McIntyre and Taina Asili with modern dance to tell stories of past and present racial injustice in America.

Three songs incorporate Queens College Professor Edisa Weeks’ research on civil rights activist James Forman, especially his book, “The Making of Black Revolutionaries.”

Edisa Weeks is a Brooklyn-based choreographer, educator and director of DELIRIOUS Dance

The Queens College Rosenthal Library is home to an archive of Forman’s personal documents, including his FBI files, collection of political pamphlets and original drafts of his books.

Weeks was interested in researching Forman’s archive because of his critique of capitalism as an exploitative system.

“As a choreographer, I really believe in a researched performance process where it’s looking at history, looking at what has gone before and to bring it forward into the present. And so, for me, it’s been really satisfying to be able to do that with this project,” she said.

“What are things that James Forman cared about and how many of those issues like reparations are we still needing to address in America? And what are things that we actually have achieved?” she continued. “For me, as a Black woman, it would’ve been impossible for me to teach at Queens College 60 years ago, but now that’s something that’s actually possible because of the work and efforts that people like James Forman did.”

The other two songs reflect current social justice issues and were inspired by the chain of racial hate crimes in 2020, including the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

“I kept on wondering what is a way that I, as a choreographer, can lend a voice to a lot of the ferment or protest that was happening,” Weeks said. “Or just for America to be a just and truly great nation.”

Weeks’ choreography is inspired by African dances from her childhood and modern dance that she has studied.

The creative process paired each of the three composers with two dancers, and each group drew parallels between current social issues and relevant topics in James Forman’s archive.

Taina Asili wrote a song related to the idea in Forman’s “Black Manifesto” of financial reparations for direct descendants of enslaved people.

Composer Taina Asili wrote a song about financial reparations for descendants of enslaved people.

The song and accompanying choreography both incorporate Afro-Caribbean elements.

“Each song is unique to the dancer and also to the message of the song,” Weeks said.

This project began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Weeks worked with the dancers and composers via Zoom until this September.

“I’ve had a month to work with the dancers and to choreograph, so it’s been a little intense and stressful,” she said. “However, also incredibly generative. I think, partially because we were in such a long gestation period, the dancers really are invested in the songs and the songs are coming from them.”

Weeks hopes that the performance will expose a new generation to James Forman’s ideas and motivate people to strive for justice in their communities.

“I’m hoping people can…experience a work that engages song and lyrics and dance and be inspired,” she said.

“Action Songs/Protest Dances” is the inaugural work of the Kupferberg Arts Incubator, an initiative that began in 2020 to give professional artists who teach at Queens College a two-year residency.

“Without the immediate prospect of resuming live events, we decided that we wanted to devote significant resources and energy toward the development of new work, which obviously takes time,” Jon Yanofsky, Kupferberg Center for the Arts director, said.

KCA’s mission is to provide accessible cultural entertainment for both the Queens College community and the entire borough.

The Kupferberg Arts Incubator is geared toward artists of color, artists who live and work in communities of color and artists whose work addresses social inequities.

“We picked Edisa Weeks, a choreographer and professor that Kupferberg had the opportunity to work with on multiple occasions. She led the dance program at Queens College, and we were just all so impressed with the way she connected with students,” Yanofsky said. “She soundly met that criteria.”

“Edisa just has such a unique dynamic point of view and she pulls people along by the strength of her conviction, just her incredibly ebullient spirit and this collaborative nature that is truly authentic,” he continued. “It was really wonderful and refreshing to see the hard work that true collaboration requires…The piece is a composite of all the people involved.”

The Kupferberg Arts Incubator’s next iteration will be in 2024 with Queens College professor Chloe Bass.

Action Songs/Protest Dances will premiere at Kupferberg Center for the Arts on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 13 at 3 p.m.

Tickets are available for $20.

After each performance, audience members are invited to participate in a discussion with Weeks and the rest of the creative team.

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