Written by Ut Quyen for Hanoigrapevine, photos and videos by Tung Duc Nguyen
Translation by Chau Giang
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Hanoi Dance Fest 2019 organized by the Goethe Institute Hanoi, Vietnam, National Opera and Ballet (VNOB) and L’Espace – French Institute in Hanoi in the nights of June 28th and 30th, with six performances by Vietnamese, French and German choreographers, has truly delivered a colorful dance feast that visually satisfied even the toughest crowd of the art form.
The first night introducing three performances in the names of ‘Random Cubic’, ‘Thán’ and ‘Into The Well’ has brought the audience to varying levels of emotions and surprises caused by the very distinct nuances of thoroughness explored by choreographers Baydanc (group), Nguyen Duy Thanh and Vu Ngoc Khai.
‘Random Cubic’- Baydanc: The Thoroughness of Ad-libbing
‘Random Cubic’ is quite a daring and courageous product from Baydanc. The courage manifests itself
through the peculiar idea that is, to thoroughly utilize the spontaneity of contemporary dance while entirely omit the conventional standards of a traditional dance performance: the performance involved neither visually provoking nor sophisticated choreography, no melodic or pretty sounding music, and no clear storyline; and yet, it still created a distinct beauty and left much room for possible interesting interpretations from the audience.
Drawing inspirations from the familiar insentient objects in daily life such as carton boxes, adhesives (glue, (cooked) rice…) and by combining completely improvisational images, choreography, sound and lighting, the artists has succeeded in turning the objects in to “characters” which possessed their own unique lives and personalities. The clashes of the choreography into the materials and sound,
the merging of the musicians’ sound of the Dan Bau (Vietnamese monochord) and the encounters of the objects on the stage – all of these factors together generated an unusual, provocative and riveting orchestra. The diverse, energy-charged moves of Le Tran Thao Nhi were the highlight of the show; and the ample, surprising sound produced by Nguyen Thuy Linh’s sole monochord led the piece’s moods and emotions.
The performance’s thorough take on the art of improvisation brought forth many unexpected moments of sublimation for both the artists and the audience, particularly when the middle section began with Lan Phuong’s impromptu moves, as she delved into the two juxtaposing movements of the string tape: one soft and indefinite, the other ruler-straight and solid. Under Phuong’s commanding lead, the other elements such as lighting, music, choreography and the materials including the carton and adhesives seemed to merge altogether seamlessly, producing an intriguing climax.
However, ad-libbing will be a double-edged sword to a dance performance if the artists lack experience and in-depth knowledge regarding not only their fields of work, but also their partners’ talents and characters. They must know how to listen and observe in order to work well together and even the makeup of the chosen materials and other on-stage elements, too, to establish total control over every possible scenarios in order to make the right decisions. In this piece, Thuy Linh’s music was diverse yet it overshadowed other factors at times; the lighting played a rather unessential role and only shone through at the middle section of the piece; and the performance’s development itself was lengthy and deprived of logic, especially with the occurrence of paint and action painting on the carton wall near the upstage center- neither of which contributed anything to the original idea of the random cubic constituted of carton and adhesive. The ending ended up being forced and unpersuasive.
Regardless of these flaws, ‘Random Cubic’ is still an intriguing work of art that does not only challenge the audience’s perception and apprehension, but also is an experiment of transcending confinement and overcoming the self, for all of the members of a dance group that was recently established by very young choreographers, actors, and musicians who also just launched off their careers.
‘Thán’ – Nguyen Duy Thanh: A Thorough Conversation
To those who have just heard of Nguyen Duy Thanh, ‘Than’ is a work that will make them wow at his talent. And to those who have known Thanh since he had received a number of domestic and international awards as a hip-hop artist until his decision to try out contemporary dancing, then his choreographer’s ability won’t disappoint. As a choreographer, Thanh Duy Nguyen has created for ‘Than’ a coherent, smart and surprising structure in which all elements: choreography, music, lighting, space is utilized thoroughly, creating highly effective visual effects. To say “utilize thoroughly” doesn’t mean to maximize the elements, but rather to combine them in a harmonized fashion, as these optimally conversed and reciprocated one another.
Rooted as a skilled hip-hop dancer, yet Thanh didn’t abuse the dance element when choreographing. He only danced as needed. His movements alternated between being powerful, determined, and slow, delicate, at times completely still; and at one point he even left the stage to let the music and lighting speak up for themselves. In fact, Thanh didn’t need to dance excessively – at certain moments, all he needed to do was raise a hand and the audience would know that every millimeters of his physical being “knows how to dance”.
Although the piece drew inspiration from the traditional Vietnamese theater genre “Tuồng”, the characteristics of this classic art form were modernized to the point of unrecognizability if one does not own the pair of ears and eyes of an expert. The lively, diverse music of Phu Pham and Truong Xuan Dang’s fine lighting and stage design have led the audience to dive into the minimalistic and partially surrealistic dimension created by the performance.
“Into The Well”- Vu Ngoc Khai: Thorough Symbolization
From the name “Into the Well” and his initial appearance on the stage alone, Vu Ngoc Khai’s performance reminisced the familiar atmosphere of Lune Production ’s top-selling shows such as ‘Tre’ (Bamboo) or ‘Lang toi’ (My village).
Born and bred in Hanoi in a traditional household, Khai Ngoc has always been bearing a certain longing for the receding Northern Delta’s past cultural values in a modern society. His work exhaustively employed the signature symbols and figures of the Northern Delta culture, from the bamboo branches, the patterns on the sedge mat, the folk music, to the costume inspired by the Ngoc Nu statue at Dau Pagoda, the traditional dance routines, the moves of the Four Holy Beasts, the cultural activities at the communal yard, or the folk games such as cockfighting, water buffalo-fighting… in order to carve out a beauty of nostalgic longing which sharply juxtaposed Nguyen Duy Thanh’s approaches of renovating and modernizing the traditional elements within ‘Than’. And unlike Duy Thanh, “thoroughness” to Ngoc Khai means optimizing the highly symbolic details, as the thousand-year old cultural sediments deep under the Red River Delta were excavated layers by layers. Every factor appearing on stage was within painstaking calculation in order to carry certain messages. By virtue of this calculation, the beauty of the music, choreography, as well as the dancers and the musicians’ talents has extravagantly unfurled themselves. However, the much too strict and too complete structure of the piece did cause the supposedly improvised moments to lack a genuine spur-of-the-moment feeling.
Khai’s “Into The Well’ may have no problem captivating those who adore the media, or prefer the well-rounded, immaculate type of aesthetic, but it may cause fatigue to those who tend to get obsessed with deciphering the plethora of symbols and iconography within his work, or those that crave moments of reverie and freedom.
Hanoi Dance Fest 2019 is said to be an event following the success of the Summer Dance and Music Camp 2018. Four out of six performances within this festival were executed and participated by choreographers, dancers and musicians who took part in the Summer Dance and Music Camp 2018 under the guidance of professor Heiner Goebbels and VNOB’s Director Tran Ly Ly. The second night of Hanoi Dance Fest 2019 is taking place on June 30th, introducing three pieces in the names of FeMale – James Sutherland, Loop – Xuan Le and Multidimensional – Huy Tran.