The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall is perfect for music. The hall is not so ideal for dance, however. That was quite evident on Saturday night when the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company joined the Ahn Trio at the concert hall for “Temptation of the Muses.”
The collaborative effort, inspired by compositions by Kenji Bunch and others and poetry by Latif Nazemi, allowed the trio to shine. But the dancers, a contemporary ensemble of seven, often appeared inhibited by the shallow stage.
Consequently, the plucky Ahn Trio was easily able to steal the show.
That’s not usually the case when live music pairs with concert dance. Mostly the eyes travel with the dancers. The music and musicians can become invisible as they entwine with the dance.
Yet the Ahn sisters sported their usual sparkle, which they poured into every piece of music. Thus, the Nai-Ni Chen Dancers were hard-pressed to draw focus into the work as a whole.
The evening opened with the chamber group capturing ears with David Balakrishnan’s “Skylife.” The dancers followed in the soulful and lovely “Yu Ryung” to music by Pat Metheny. As led by a misty Jamison Goodnight, the dancers looked to be summoning the gods (or muses) as they gazed at an unseen horizon. They rotated around each other in a shadowy, quiet swirl and then glided off in gentle and fluid pairings that were tinged with sobriety.
Bunch’s music took over most of the dances from there. “Dies Irie” seemed a tepid sequel to “Yu Ryung.” More personality and fire emerged in “Concrete Stream,” in which a tub of water, placed center stage, cleansed the dancers from a debilitating affliction. In this piece, Angella Ahn on violin and Maria Ahn on cello, moved toward the center, too. The dancers blended with them as if the music and musicians understood their struggles and inspired their eventual release through baptism.
As the evening progressed, the dancers were more willing to take chances in their limited space. In “Lullaby,” two couples barely slumbered. They rolled and twisted on the floor in a yeasty brew of nightmarish anguish and betrayal. The theme continued with “Lullaby for My Favorite Insomniac,” featuring Ekaterina Chernikhova and Jung Hm Jo. The two pushed and pulled at each other, drawn together and torn apart by a confused love/hate relationship.
The ensemble had the most fun in a hoedown, “Backstep” from “danceband.” Here, the dancers stirred up the dust by stomping their feet and wheeling their arms. The most memorable part was the battle over a chair, fought with handstands and high, karate-style kicks by Guanglei Hui and Noibis Licea.
The final work, “Grooveboxes” from “Swing Shift,” unleashed the dancers’ desperately bottled up energy. They darted and raced about like newborn harpies.
While the dancers’ ardor came late, it was fine, as the Ahn siblings kept the musical embers glowing — including a haunting rendering of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”