The weekend of June 22-23, Gretna Music’s 2019 summer season kicks off with a live performance of music and dance exploring the concept of freedom.

The collaboration between the Ahn Trio and the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company will feature music by Prince, David Bowie, Zoe Keating, and more.

Each Friday this summer, LebTown will be previewing who’s playing the next weekend at Gretna Music—leaving you plenty of time to purchase tickets or get more information on the artists by visiting the Gretna Music website or Facebook page, or calling 717-361-1508.

This week’s interview features Maria Ahn of the Ahn Trio and Nai-Ni Chen herself from the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company.

How would you describe “A Quest for Freedom” to someone who hasn’t seen it before?

Maria Ahn: Definitely a must see! It is really fun to watch modern dance and music together live, there’s nothing like it…

And the three of us (the Trio) have so much fun playing to the choreography that is so fluid—we feel like the movements has its own life, it’s breathing and forever evolving.

The Ahn Trio is comprised of sisters Maria, Lucia, and Angella Ahn.

This program came into being from a beautiful collaboration; Nai-Ni Chen’s gorgeous choreography created specifically with our Ahn Trio’s music—it showcases how music and dance come together on stage, it explodes with raw emotion, sheer fun, humor, and at other times filling you with deep thoughts.

It’s as if it makes one hear music better with the dancers and you see dance better with the live music, creating a new experience to hear music and see dance. The incredible synergy that blends dancer’s movements with our live music on stage can be only experienced by being there.

Nai-Ni Chen: It’s going to be a very beautiful and mesmerizing experience for the audience, and I always love the audience to take home a good memory with them. It’s mixed with a lot of things—lyrical moments, dramatic moments, heart-pounding moments. Most importantly, I feel this program can connect all of us together, the dancers, musicians and audience. The magic we create and share in this life performance is so special because every note the musicians play and every step dancers take are from that genuine place full of life and emotions.

Read more: Our full preview of the Gretna Music 2019 summer performance schedule.

What inspirations have gone into the performance?

Maria Ahn: The title has many layers of meaning as Nai-Ni has said, a constant yearning we feel-we’re all always searching for freedom, inspiration for this performance is from all different sizes of freedom that occurs in life that we are searching for; could be freedom from oneself or from one’s limitations, freedom from somebody, freedom from repressed country, it can be large or small.

And, inspiration for our Trio come in all shapes, forms, places and experiences. For this particular performance, our inspirations were mainly Nai-Ni’s choreography and the dancers, unique and individual shapes and movements they create around us, inspire us to play differently. For example, sometimes more emotionally or at times holding back in order to delay showing too much too soon or playing with tempo or phrasing more freely, etc. And of course, our inspirations are evolving constantly, too, that’s what makes this performance so interesting. We love that we inspire each other during, prior and post performances and we constantly grow together and change organically and we’re never staying stagnant.

Nai-Ni Chen: I think, for me as an artist I always take inspiration from my life experience and how I relate that to what I see surrounding me and what’s happening in the world. It can be an experience from my own life—how I was brought up, where I came from, how I moved to America—all of those can provide inspirations for me to create. Just look at what’s happening in the world right now. I feel other people’s joy as well as their pain and struggle. I think freedom is what we are all pursuing regardless where we are from. In Chinese history we have been through a lot of wars and turmoil. Although I grew up in Taiwan with a peaceful and joyous childhood, I heard stories from my parents, grandparents and what they’ve been through. You learn from all that and feel like you carry that responsibility and burden to reflect on those stories and to communicate those feelings in today’s context. I think we are all on a quest to freedom. To understand the true meaning of freedom, the hope, joy and responsibility that come with it is the inspiration of this concert.

The Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company is a New York based company known for using dance to express the interplay of Chinese and American cultural traditions. Read a New York Times profile about the company here.

What has the experience rehearsing and putting it together been like?

Maria Ahn: Apart from the rehearsals being so much fun, it is a creative process that is like building a house or a chef perfecting a dish, things come in or go. Sometimes like putting the perfect ingredients together, and getting it just so and tweaking its flavors, and then standing from afar and seeing if the big picture is exactly what you imagined and then seeing up close re-examining with a microscope to fix the tiny little details…the whole process is so fun preparing for each performance.

There is a piece called “Candybox”, a newly released track by us (Ahn Trio) by a Dutch composer Chiel Meijering, where the whole piece feels literally like it’s so sweetly fast paced and fun, “Concrete Stream” is a piece that feels like the stream that constantly flows no matter what’s happening, searching for freedom sometimes feels like that. No matter what obstacles, we can find the stream that will flow. “Yuryung” written by Pat Metheny for Ahn Trio has perhaps a more serious tone, music and dance will make one feel some of the “Han” (a Korean word that doesn’t exist in English vocabulary that describes a deep complex sorrow, but, it’s more than just a sorrow, please ask Korean friends the in depth meaning)—maybe feel a little bit like reading “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee whom we love.

Nai-Ni Chen: This is the second production that we’ve collaborated with Ahn Trio. I think their music is very beautiful and emotional and it can connect with people directly. It’s not only with various intensities, but also with a lot of colors and textures. During the collaborative process, I asked them for suggestions on music and they provided me with a repertoire that they played or the music they were working on. So first of all we talked about the ideas and then selected music. Then I listened to all of the options again and again. I went into the dance studio and spent hours and hours working with the dancers on movements and choreography. At the same time, I invited visual artists and costume, lighting designers to join me in the process. Two of the Ahn Trio members live locally so they came in sometimes to play music and improvised with the dancers. Recently we visited the rooftop and had a lot of fun improvising together using NY skyscraper as background. We premiered the program about 10 months ago and it is still evolving, with us thinking about how to make it better. We have this constant conversation to discuss, think back and improve the program. It’s a constant evolution to make it stronger and stronger.

“A Quest for Freedom” is the second production that the Ahn Trio and Nai-Ni Chen have collaborated on.

Where is the most unexpected place you’ve heard or played amazing music?

Maria Ahn: We have many, but, maybe I can name a few…

One. The White House when we performed for the Obamas, it was like a dream.

Two. Aya Irini church inside the Topkapi Palace which was built in the 4th Century.

Three. A small city called, Tarsus in Turkey where Mark Anthony and Cleopatra met, and it’s also the birthplace of Paul the Apostle.

Nai-Ni Chen: One time we went to a summer festival in Prien at Chiemsee, Germany. It was in a beautiful park with a very large lake where they built an outdoor theater. The stage is actually floating on the lake and it wobbles a little. Right before our performance, a thunderstorm came in. The performers were covered but the audience was not, but they all stayed as the performance unfolded. When the thunder came, we happened to be performing a dance called Neptune’s Dialogue, so it was a very beautiful moment like we were dancing in the middle of ocean with a visitation from the God of Sea. You felt you are truly one with nature. It was a great experience to feel the spirit of the nature came in to play a part of the dance to create magic on stage. So that’s still an unforgettable experience for me to this day. I am really looking forward to this outdoor performance in Mt. Gretna. You never know what’s going to happen in an outdoor setting. We have done a number of performances in summer festivals over the years and many of them are the most unforgettable memories on our journey.

What would be your Jigger Shop order? (The Jigger Shop is a historic ice cream parlor located near the Playhouse. See their menu here!)

Maria Ahn: Apple Fritter Flambe or Bananas Foster Flambe

Lucia Ahn: Strawberry Shortcake

Angella Ahn: Beignet Sundae

Photo courtesy of the Jigger Shop website.

Nai-Ni Chen: Mint chocolate. Sugar cone.

If you go…
11am June 22 GM4K Ahn Trio
“A 50 minute concert for kids and their adults!”

7:30pm June 23 Ahn Trio with the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Co.
“A Quest for Freedom – contemporary mashup of adapted contemporary music and dance.”

Full Disclosure: Gretna Music is an advertiser with LebTown and this series was produced as part of a media relationship. Gretna Music does not review interviews before publication.


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