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Europe meets Asia in contemporary dance

Bradley Winterton
Wednesday,  Sep 27,2017,17:41 (GMT+7)
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Europe meets Asia in contemporary dance

Bradley Winterton

A scene of the “Stigmergy” show - PHOTO: XUAN HAI

Make no mistake about it, the on-going Europe Meets Asia in Contemporary Dance festival, which began last week simultaneously in Hanoi and HCMC, and runs until October 14, isn’t aiming to please traditional tastes. Far from it.

But first of all, know your critic. My enthusiasms are for unexpected dramatic effects, loud music, brilliant colors, heart-breaking or transgressive emotions, and awe-inspiring scenery. My reaction to semi-abstract treatments of intellectual concepts to the accompaniment of minimalist music is therefore likely to be muted – unless, that is, they are seductive to the eye, astonishing, or simply pleasantly shocking.

This statement is prompted by a performance I attended on Sunday evening. The two items I witnessed were both based on abstract concepts. Stigmergy, a piece involving 16 young dancers from Hanoi, and the creation of Germany-based choreographer Dieter Heitkamp, was said to illustrate the phenomenon of the creation of “complex, seemingly intelligent structures, without the need of any planning, controlling, or even direct communication between the agents”.

This was followed by Black & Scholes. Performed by three female dancers, and the creation of Montreal-based Kim-Sanh Chau, the title refers to a Nobel Prize-winning concept from mathematics and finance, and purported to “confront structure and chaos within a body frame”.

No one was likely to have experienced any very strong emotion while watching either of these two works. The first displayed a series of movements and interactions centered on a long, thick rope, enlivened by the appearance of a figure brandishing two long and extendable poles. The second featured minimal movement – flicking of fingers and the like – and a strange lack of contact between the three female dancers.

What remained with me after the show were three things, all from the second piece. These were mesmeric film of breaking white and grey ocean waves, with a dancer doing very little in the shallows, the intensity of the red lighting that followed this, again with the dancers standing almost inactive in front of it, and some highly rhythmic rock-and-roll style music, which the dancers conspicuously refrained from dancing to. But none of these effects was characteristic of the intellectual nature of either of the two pieces taken as a whole.

A long Q&A session, in Vietnamese and English, followed. During it Dieter Heitkamp made the interesting observation that, with so many dancers onstage in Stigmergy, audience members had to make a choice as to which to watch, and so in effect everyone was experiencing a different performance.

The performance, which was supported by the Goethe Institute, was staged in the theater of the HCMC Dance School at 155 bis Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street in District 3. This is a magnificent auditorium – comfortable, with superb acoustics, and not too large.

Another event in the festival, Tape Riot, will take place on Nguyen Hue Boulevard on September 27 and 28 at 8 a.m. (yes!) and 5 p.m. It’s the creation of a European company, Asphalt Piloten, that among other things aims to alter our perceptions of public spaces. Needless to say, attendance is free.

The festival performances will end on October 14 with Urban Distortions at 8pm in the Saigon Opera House. It’s the fruit of collaboration between the French-Belgian dance company Transitscape and the female Vietnamese rap star Suboi, who will be onstage in this unique event. Tickets will probably be very hard to come by.

Contemporary dance, in other words, is meant to open our eyes, not caress our prejudices. But, like all art, it still needs to engage its spectators, as well as display originality and flair. As something that stimulates, this festival is certainly welcome, even if in the final analysis beauty remains very much in the eye of the beholder.

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