Written by Ut Quyen for Hanoi Grapevine, photos and videos by Nguyen Duc Tung
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If the three dance pieces performed in the first night of Hanoi Dance Fest 2019 brought a surprise about how the choreographers and artists fully exploit different elements to bring their work to the climax, the three pieces of the second night FeMale, Loop and Multidimensional even surprised the audience more with the boundless evocative power that contemporary dance could bring.
“FeMale” – James Sutherland: Who Am I? And If So, How Many?
The second night opened with the “FeMale”, a typical German rational dance piece choreographed by James Sutherland.The internal struggle between the Male the Female in an individual is expressed clearly right from the title with the deliberate capitalization of the two letters F and M. The work is not intended to exploit the subject of homosexuality, but rather pay more attention to the struggle of the “I” inside to find out the true gender in each person – which is often inconsistent with the sex of birth.
All elements in the work are maximally simplified to serve the overall concept. Dancers do not appear on stage in any fancy clothes but rather in daily outfit; the exploitation modern dance movements in combination with daily gestures and lots of breaks; the emphasis on dancers’ facial expression; the repetition of certain movements, the unchanged rhythm music with repetition of some melodies; simple stage design without a decorative background or any luxury visual effects, and the unchanged light throughout the piece; all give the feeling of a continuously silent yet fierce inner fight.
If there were male-female, female-female struggles, there would have been female-male and male-male struggles. The piece only performed by three dancers one male and two females, reflecting the male-female, female-female fight within an individual, thus somehow evokes a sense of incompleteness and disillusion in the audience. James Sutherland revealed after the performance that this piece just an excerpt of a 40-minute work with diverse costumes and stage design, changing in music and light setting to give viewers a variety and more comprehensive nuances of the fight between male-female, female-female, female-male, male-male within oneself, in a broader sense, among individuals in the society, and how to find true ‘I’.
The issue posed in James Sutherland’s work reminisces to the famous philosophical book of the German author, Richard David Precht, “Who Am I? And If So, How Many?”. “Who am I” seems to be an obsessed question throughout Western philosophical history – which has recently more and more become an urgent issue in the Eastern society where is increasingly influenced by Western individualism.
“Loop” – Xuan Le: the traceability to the origin
“The Loop” choreographed and danced by artist Xuan Le is also the first part of a longer work under the theme of traceability to the origin, and it also evokes the sense of disillusion in audience when ended – but not because of the feeling of incompletion, but rather because of the unwilling to leave the poetic and flawlessly beautiful world created by the dance to which they have been drawn in.
The introduction about a dance piece choreographed by an artistic director who was champion of France in 2009 and ranked 6th in the world championship of freestyle slalom the same year raised curiosity and set high expectations of the work from the audience. And Xuan Le has disappointed none, even surpassed any expectations there might have, when not only combining in his performance the essential beauty of the art of patin skating and dance, but also of many other arts including circus, break-dance, and even ice-skating – all blended together as flawlessly and smoothly as the endless loops created in his work.
As soon as the first red fleck appeared floating on the stage, and the slow rolling movements started to repeat on the floor, Xuan Le has brought the audience into a dreamlike surreal world in which each person can build a story of their own, not necessarily related to the work’s original concept. The artist’s narration starts by an encounter of fire and water elements which leads to the formation of the planet. The presence of the fire element is undeniable by the use of highly suggestive lighting and sound, the slow rolling movements of the dancer on the floor can be interpreted as water – according to the work concept description, but the audience can also start the story with a camping night by a campfire. The development of the earth, life and human being in the subsequent parts of the performance can also be interpreted as a story of indefinite journey of a lonely wanderer.
The exaggeratedly slow movements and music rhythm is emphasized throughout the work, causing a distortion in the sense of time and tempo. Viewers fall into the illusion of being in a slow-motion film, where even the feeling of gravity and inertia seems to be perverted. The illuminating blue ball in the artist’s hand seems to fall more slowly than it should have fallen. The illuminating sphere that floats in space seems to spin around more slowly than it should have spun. In that slow rhythm and slow sequence of movements, all the emotion and the consciousness of the existence are exaggerated.
The slow rhythmic movements in Loop can be easily related to the Japanese Butō dance, the outfit of the dancer, together with the old Japanese text which is read out in the latter half of the performance suggested an epic story of a lonely samurai rather than a story about the origin of the Earth, the birth of life and human, the development of the universe and mankind… as said by Xuan Le himself. However, the power of contemporary dance lies in its ability of empowering audiences with imagination and provoking emotions which, in many cases, are far different from the artist’s intentions, and thus adding more values as well as vitality to a work beyond the context in which it was born.
“Multidimensional” – Huy Tran: questioning the nature of existence
Huy Tran is reportedly said in an interview about his choreographed “Multidimensional”: “Focus on the first 15 minutes and you’ll see the answer right after the next 15 minutes!” (source). But it was quite hard to follow what he suggested when the audience’s mind was still floating in the fantasy space created by the preceded work. Viewers might have the illusion that Loop has not ended when they saw the three dancers in the first performance choreographed by James Sutherland appeared again on the stage, still in casual clothes and simple stage set-ups. Along with the participation of two new male dancer, it seems like the fight between the male and the female in each person and among individuals is continued to take place.
The monotonous, dark and cold music of the first part did not create much emotion to refute the audience’s focus on what was happening on stage. It was not until all the lights completely faded away, and the audience started to applaud thinking that the show was over then the music resounded, the excitement of the Multidimensional was revealed. The feeling of being deceived drew all the attention of the viewers back to the stage, and the answer previously mentioned by Huy Tran was found out when the audience realized themselves was reviewing the exact choreography of the previous part, but just in the opposite direction. To this point, not only was every movement carefully scrutinized, but also the elements of lighting, stage composition, and music were thoroughly observed. And viewers may be happy to realize that with the same dance, but when the music changed, the imaginations and emotions brought by the work would be completely different.
Perhaps with this choreography, Huy Tran did not want to recount any specific stories, instead questioning the meaning of existence of the dance itself (dance for dance sake), and the role and the interaction of each element on the stage. Through which the audience started to question themselves about the multidimensionality of existence – is a thing really the one that we saw?
It can be said that the success of Hanoi Dance Fest 2019 is not only made up of six performances, but also in the arrangement of the works in each night. Each choreography has its own nuances, and overall, they have left much impression and good aftertaste in the hearts of viewers. Dance lovers in Hanoi in particular and Vietnam in general can hope and look forward to the continuation of the Dance Fest 2020 and in the following years.