The premiere of Never was Broken: a dance through life and death and life was an evening performance conceived and directed by Jessica Chen. Created in collaboration with the dancers and recording artist, Dennis Diaz, the performance brought nine contemporary dance works to the intimate space at Peridance Capezio Center's Salvatore Capezio Theater.
After facing a necessary last-minute relocation from Dance New Amsterdam (more information on that here), which caused the performance run to shrink down to a one-night-only event, J Chen Dance still impressed with a jam-packed house. You would be hard-pressed to find an audience member who left without having been touched by the genuine spirit on stage this past Saturday, Sept. 21.
This is not the only challenge that resulted in Never was Broken. In August of 2012, dancer/choreographer Jessica Chen suffered a horrific car accident which rendered her in a coma for 13 days after eight hours surgery. Here she is, a year later, not only a survivor, but an active choreographer and dancer. The 'Note from the Artist' in the program reads, "This work is inspired by life, miracles, and reflections...movement is the best way I know how to understand the world. I answer my questions, share my story and experience my magic through dance. In the hospital a physical therapist doctor came into my room to teach me how to sit up again. I responded to him as if I was learning new choreography saying, 'Ok, so it's three moves?'"
As someone who has seen Chen's work both before and after her accident, I can confidently assert that she still shines just as bright onstage and her work remains palpably driven by sincerity: each movement exists for a purpose.
Opening with "Invocation Installation," the audience is welcomed into an emotionally present universe that simultaneously captures a touch of beautiful angst and peace. Then, in "Let Us Pray" a select quartet of the eight-dancer company travels with elegance through the music, silence, and recorded voices. The third work, "Climb. Is All We Know" features music by Bon Iver as well as an interview with Desmond Richardson. Chen performs this solo created by guest choreographer Nicole Smith, which highlights Chen's organic way of transitioning from one shape in space to the next. The first half closes with two short trio works - "NO (evil)" and "First Words..." that have a driving sense of push and pull between the dancers.
The second half of the evening performance began with "an ounce of nothing" - a work of architecture as the dancers move through specific channels and sharp-turned paths in between one another while clocks chime. Pacing evolves into ensemble work, with the full company dropping to the floor, their legs swiveling around so they can soon slowly rise. In particular, dancer Jessica Aronoff stands out each time she is highlighted throughout the evening; she is not only technically astute, but also a beautiful mover who seems to embody the organic movement quality that Chen has made her mark with.
"Training the Devil" was one of the most powerful pieces of the program, choreographed by Chen and guest choreographer Chien-Hai Chang. Also performing in this piece, Chen dons blue fingerless gloves as she dances a passionate duet with company member Sandy Shelton. Their partnering is both technically and visually appealing, but more than that, there is something entrancing about this duet. Following is "Leap Of Faith," which highlights the dancer's extensions and lines as yellow lights warm the stage. Never was Broken closes with "Amen," a solo work performed by guest artist Norbert De La Cruz which was originally choreographed by Cruz and molded by Chen. It is a powerful finale that exudes both starkness, loneliness, and yet residing hopefulness. The lights dim as a recording of Kevin Mills reciting "The Our Father" echoes.