Moving Bodies Across Cultures: an analysis of a Vietnamese/Australian dance and theatre project

Stock, Cheryl F. (1999) Moving Bodies Across Cultures: an analysis of a Vietnamese/Australian dance and theatre project. In Australasian Drama Studies, Hamilton, New Zealand.


In 1990 I invited Pham Anh Phuong, a principal dancer with Nha Hat Nhac Vu Kich Viet Nam (Vietnam Opera Ballet Theatre) in Hanoi to work for twelve months as a guest dancer in Australia with Dance North where I was Artistic Director. Not long after his arrival, I cast him in the leading role of a contemporary work Ochre Dusk. Phuong had a rudimentary knowledge of contemporary dance from my two previous visits to Vietnam in 1988 and 1989, and worked extremely hard to adapt to the particular choreographic style of Ochre Dusk. At that stage he spoke little English, and was often frustrated at the lack of verbal communication. However, he was so quick in rehearsals and had such an intuitive and sensitive response to the work, that rehearsals were rarely a problem. Phuong, whilst retaining his distinctive dance identity, skilfully overlaid this with the stylistic peculiarities of the work. On the night of the dress rehearsal his performance was breathtaking. But during the premiere he began to slow everything down, not so he was out of time with the music, or so that he did unison work behind the others, but in an extraordinary way in which he seemed to stretch time and yet stay within the musical framework. His spatial projection and dynamics appeared to contract, and remove him from the centre of the action whilst at the same time compelling us to follow his altered kinetic journey. As the percussion and didgeridoo drove the other dancers to a frenzied energetic climax, I had the feeling Phuong was slowly drowning. I myself thought I would choke. What was he doing? He was ruining my work. My anger got the better of me after the performance. Phuong listened as tears streamed down my face. His face was impenetrable, but in his eyes I thought I could read a mixture of anger, perplexity, and sadness. He said nothing to me except a quiet “sorry‿. Later that night in between his own sobs, he explained to our administrator, “I slow it down for Cheryl to make more beautiful‿. How did this extraordinary transformation happen as Phuong made the leap from rehearsal to performance mode? Was the new kinetic patterning absorbed so accurately over an intensive three-month period and assimilated with his previous classical ballet and Vietnamese traditional dance training, merely provisional if it could be so thoroughly dismantled under the pressure of performance? What pre-existing and rehearsed dance elements ‘mutated’ to effect such a dramatic alteration of feeling, style and interpretation? And how conscious was Phuong’s decision to effect this transformation? Eight years later and after eight further visits to Vietnam to work with the Vietnam Opera Ballet Theatre, issues concerning the nature of cultural encoding and culturally specific aesthetic sensibilities on the dancing body continue to provide a rich area of inquiry

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ID Code: 364
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional Information: The conference paper was later published as a journal article in "Australasian Drama Studies", no. 34, pp. 47-68 (see link above) It is reproduced here with kind permission from the publisher, Australasian Drama Studies Association
Keywords: Dance, Choreography, Vietnam, Australia
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING (190000) > PERFORMING ARTS AND CREATIVE WRITING (190400) > Dance (190403)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 1999 (please consult author)
Deposited On: 26 Aug 2004 00:00
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2010 12:21

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