“I had a wonderful dream on Friday night.
I dreamed the river ran free
that on its roaring horse
it rode over stones,
past the border of farms”
These words, from Persian poet Latif Nazemi’s work entitled “A Word for Freedom,” appeared momentarily on the screen of Dewitt Theatre’s stage on Sept. 19 and 20. Audience members absorbed these words to the rich, vibrating melodies produced by Korean-born, Juilliard-trained musicians Lucia, Maria, and Angella Ahn. Together they form the Ahn Trio, one of two artistic groups brought to campus by the Hope College Great Performance Series (GPS). The Ahn Trio performed alongside the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, inviting everyone who watched to take part in a wonderful dream of music, dance and inspirational expression.
The Ahn sisters have traveled the U.S. and the world, bringing their bold twist on classical music everywhere they go. The sisters also have a passionate interest in teaching and inspiring young musicians. “We hope that students are inspired by the festivities that took place here, that they’re inspired to believe anything is possible,” says Angella Ahn when asked by The Anchor what she hopes students will take from their performance. “It is usual that there is dance and music recorded, so this magic happens when you put music and dance together on stage.” The Ahn trio were more than simple accompanists for the dance company; from the opening number they possessed a strong, dynamic presence. At times filling the theatre with their music, at other times forcing us into stark silence, the Ahn trio showed their mastery over sound and became an integral part of the dancing. They were the perfect group to perform alongside the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company; both groups melded together as if they were always meant to perform that way.
The night opened with a solo dance by Nai-Ni Chen herself. Her dance was slow, contemplative and peaceful, paying homage to her beginnings. After gathering acclaim in Taiwan as a traditional dancer, Chen came to the U.S. in the 1980s, and in 1988 her dance company became a reality. Since then her company has toured through America, Asia, and Europe, inspiring audiences with Chen’s unique blend of traditional and contemporary dance. The dance company itself is a diverse group of highly-skilled dancers, who have been rehearsing these routines for quite some time. “This group has been rehearsing this show for about ten months now,” explains Cara McManus, a member of the company. “This is our third time performing it, but we’ve been rehearsing for a while. We were pretty much doing it over and over again. And we had to watch videos of past dances and learn off the videos. And then Nai-Ni would let us run the piece, and she would give us lots of notes. There’s a lot of figuring out spacing—spacing is a big part of this show—and then just working together with the other dancers.”
This level of dedication is apparent on the dance stage. Their dance repertoire was exciting and varied, drawing especially from the complexity of human relationships and the beauty of water. “My favorite piece is the second piece of the show, called ‘Concrete Stream.’ It’s just such a special feeling being able to use and feel the water, it brings a sort of tangibility to the dance, and really helps you get into some other sort of dimension,” McManus explains. “I think the show tonight went really well. I think the musicians and the dancers were especially in sync tonight, so we could feed off of each other, and hopefully the audience felt that energy.”
Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company performed at Hope in 2004, and the Ahn Trio in 2002 and 2007. And now, they had the chance to collaborate together, bringing two different energies together to express culture and change. With this convergence, the groups hope to inspire. “For me this is the magic of music, it transports you.” Ahn contemplates. “So, keep playing music, dancing, painting, and go see live shows at these incredible venues you have.” McManus says, “Hope students could be welcomed into a whole different mode of artistry. One of the main purposes of this program in particular is to illustrate the journeys of Nai-Ni Chen herself and the Ahn trio to America, and sort of merging their childhood experiences with the experience of beginning again in America. And I think that’s something really special to be able to express through movement, it creates a really special sort of language. I hope that Hope College students can see this new sort of language and begin developing their own special languages.”
After the performance, both groups went out to meet and talk with students. “Some of the dancers who performed, and students were standing around talking, and the dancers seemed really invested in the students,” says Sage Mikkelsen (’21), a GPS student assistant. “They asked what type of dance they were into, suggested some performances to look into to, and talked a little about their own experiences as professionals. To me this really shows how we pick performers who are able to connect with students and who are willing to share their own experiences in order to help Hope students, interested in the arts, continue their studies.” The Ahn Trio and Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company establish workshops when they travel to inspire students to follow their ambitions. Although they expressed themselves through the medium of dance and music, their message is for all audiences. They preach the importance of bettering your worldview so you are more aware of your place in the world. Whether this is through the arts, or through STEM, or through the humanities, it doesn’t matter. This chapter in the Great Performance Series prods you to inspire yourself. Look out for the next events in the Hope College Great Performance Series, as they are sure to astound. Next in line is Cuarteto Latinoamerico, with the guitarist Jiji, on Oct 7 in the Jack Miller Center for Musical Arts.