KVT – A Dance to Sigh about

KVT – A Dance to Sigh about

KVT 2013
KVT gets totally involved with a really sweet suite
This week saw the second public performance by the Hanoi Dance Theatre’

The HDT was created in 2011 by two of Vietnam National Opera Ballet’s most talented dancers, Cao Chi Thanh and Cao Duc Toan to attempt to ensure that there was a contemporary dance company in Vietnam made up of the best of the best Vietnamese dancers who would be given the opportunity to perform good and even cutting edge contemporary dance pieces choreographed by international and local experts in the field.

Cao Duc Toan 1

Cao Duc Toan 2

Image of Cao Duc Toan from Word Hanoi

It is an extension of the Vietnam Dance College-located on the Cultural University Campus of Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism- that has existed since 1959 and graduates about 100 dancers a year.

Hopefully the new company will be able to flourish without too much manipulation from the parent body and become an exciting and even internationally renowned contemporary dance body that may eventually be allowed to be independent and professional.

Gerry Herman from the Hanoi Cinematheque has been a major backer of the new company and on Tuesday night he must have been totally thrilled with its presentation of ‘Natural Phenomena: Nina Simone Suite’

Marisa Hayes, an award winning choreographer and dance film maker, created the Suite for Cao Chi Thanh and American dancer, Cassidy Isaacson, and worked with them in Paris for the ‘Suite’s’ premiere and her total commitment to getting it up and going is evidenced at this site and her company here. Hayes was at the performance in the Opera House and I hope that the censors didn’t dip their fingers too indelicately into her initial concept. If you can access this site, you can see images from the Paris performance.

Isaacson was the perfect partner for Cao Chi Thanh and her sensuousness combined well with his athleticism

Ballet Dancer Cassidy Isaacson
Ballet Dancer Cassidy Isaacson

The ‘Suite’ uses songs sung by the late, great performance and activist Nina Simone with emphasis on pieces that reflected climatic conditions and that were eloquently used in a very effective soundscape  devised by the choreographer’s husband/partner, Franck Boulegue…..an example of Simone’s distinctive voice on this clip

It’s a slow, hypnotic work that commences with Cao Chi Thanh sliding down into two slow motion, perfect splits and features Cassidy dancing beautifully on pointe

For me it was edge of the seat viewing. The pas de deux were riveting and the solo’s, Thanh’s to ‘Summertime’, featuring his trade mark leaps and spins, and Cassidy’s contorted writhing to a fabulous ‘House of the Rising Sun’, were sensational.

Such a pity that the season was a one night stand as it deserved much more, and as a full season progressed the tentativeness that was initially seen would have dissolved and a sultry, sexy partnership flow naturally into place

Two other pieces made up the first half of the show.

‘An Improvisation’, a short, cheeky piece for five females on pointe and a little reminiscent of Irish step dancing, was accompanied by Ha Dinh Huy on foot tapping percussion. As soon as the dancers were dancing in time it was an engaging and humorous work and would benefit from a few more outings and will obviously become a standard piece in the new company’s repertoire

Cao Duc Toan choreographed ‘Echoes’ to Bui anh Dung’s original music and obviously utilized younger members of the Dance Collegesome of whom  may eventually have the required talent to be engaged by the Dance Theatre .

Nice music, nice costumes and a nice use of tableaux made the dance attractive to watch and given time, maturity and dancer physicality, it could become a strong work.

2013 is the centenary of Stravinsky’s ballet music ‘The Rite Of Spring’ which as one critic put it: in only a handful of classical works do so many instruments proceed in seemingly unrelated motion and play by no known rules…and of them only ‘The Rite of Spring’ does so while telling a compelling story….not morally uplifting but full of perpetually nihilistic chic

Its first outing in paris caused a near riot

KVT - A Dance to Sigh about 1

The ‘Rite’ is probably one of the most performed ballets this year throughout the world (with two versions in Hanoi this week) and was initially subtitled ‘Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts’ and which depicts primitive and savage rituals that befit the beginning of spring on the steppes that seemed to begin violently in one hour and proceed with the whole earth cracking. As Jean Cocteau prophesized, it would remain a musical masterpiece impregnated with wild pathos, the earth in the throes of birth with animal and camp noises rising out of the depths of centuries….the panting of cattle, profound convulsions of nature and prehistoric georgics.

KVT - A Dance to Sigh about 2

First performance recreated

For the ballet to remain a masterpiece it has to encompass all of Cocteau’s imagery and be remembered and restaged as the dance that tore away the tulle and tiara of ballet and dragged it quixotically forward and primevally back….and most of all be an Event! as the interspersed images from around the world  indicate it can be

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A clip here shows a restaging in original Nijinsky choreography and costume, then a searing bit  by Pina Bausch and finally an almost X rated piece of excitement

Basically the storyline revolves around a young girl who is chosen as a sacrificial victim for the gods of spring and when caught in the ritual’s grip, dances herself to death.

KVT - A Dance to Sigh about 4

Hai Thu Son choreographed the story to a Vietnamese setting that was effective but the whole thing, despite a great use of the stage, didn’t quite latch onto the viscerality that it could have. But you could see that given time and maturity, the dancers will be able to clench at your stomach muscles and not let go until the climactic end.

KVT - A Dance to Sigh about 5

This version was like one of those horror story scenarios that Z grade American movie makers churn out about high school graduating classes…a bit unbelievable…but at least it has loads of promise

Here are some clips of my all time favorite version that gets the sacrifice energetically and awfully viscerally perfect

As a bit of a contemporary dance freak I’ll be following the future moves of the new company with optimistic eagerness and I hope that the aims of the founding brothers reach fruition.

As a post script, it’s interesting to note that Marissa Hayes choreographed a recent ‘Rite’ for the Pina Bausch Company.

And another PS: for the first time in yonks I’ve been at a classical music event in Hanoi where the foreigners in the audience vastly out numbered the locals. Strange!

To finally finish: The Guardian’s pick of the ten best Rites in the last 100 years

Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.


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