On the day of my visit, the dancers of ‘Method’ were practicing an exercise that involves many people crashing to each other before they all proceed to fall to the ground, their movements resemble vehicles falling into pieces after an accident.
Nicknamed “worn-out car,” the exercise imitates a car crash and how the vehicle would disintegrate after a collision. Like many exercises conducted in the dance studio, “worn-out car” helps dancers navigate their bodies in relation to others, find physical connections, using the others’ bodies as pivots, compasses or platforms of support.
‘Method’ is a contemporary dance performance occurring in Saigon this December, organized by H2Q Art, a newly established dance company found by Nguyen Viet Ha, Bui Ngoc Quan and Ta Hong Hoang Anh. The performance is choreographed by New Zealand dancer and choreographer Ross McCormack with the participation of six dancers coming from a range of different disciplines including Lam Duy Phuong (KIM), Vu Ngoc Khai, Lam To Nhu, Nguyen Quang Tu, Nguyen Thanh Sang and Nguyen Duy Thanh. The music is composed by New Zealand-based Jason Wright.
Contrary to what one might expect how the preparations for a dance performance often go, the team behind ‘Method’ takes a rather different approach. Usually, the choreographer is considered an “architect” and the dancers/actors act as conduits through which prescribed movements can be performed. ‘Method,’ however, starts first with a loose core idea and the whole performance will be built and realized as everyone interacts and discovers one another via these practice sessions, exercises and instinctive improvisation. This spontaneity, the meaning of which was later explained to me by some of the dancers, is more commonly found in contemporary dance practices.
“I separate everyone to [develop] individual material [for] input. […] The result is not a compromise but just a new language,” said Ross McCormack, who has spent 10 years working in the critically acclaimed Belgian dance company Les Ballets C de la B and is a recipient of the 2017 New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate.
The initial idea of ‘Method’ centers around a structure, in this case, a five-meter long pole, which serves as a totemic object through which energy can be drawn from.
“I like the way humans bestow huge importance on objects,” Ross tells Saigoneer. “I like being able to find that balance between the right object to use and the right approach [to assign meaning to the object]. [Whether] that’s not spiritual [or] that is spiritual. [Whether] it’s not ritual [or] it is, and you play with this abstract world.”
The pole is made of bamboo, which was not the original intent. The crew wasn’t able to find the other material so bamboo was the only thing they could get access to. Ross shared that this inclusion of bamboo scares him as bamboo in Vietnamese culture has already gained special meaning and social connotation, whether it’s a cliché or a symbol of Vietnam’s rural life. However, he also believes that body movements and the way dancers interact and respond to this object can overcome this hurdle.
“They are guardians of these structures that get passed down and it helps them to navigate the space, meet with each other; their language of movements becomes the response to the worshiping of the pole, or sphere, or totem, or structure.”
The performance is a collaboration between different dancers from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines. Vu Ngoc Khai, who is the group’s oldest member, was originally trained in ballet but has moved on to practice in contemporary dance in theaters around Europe and Vietnam. Khai is known for incorporating traditional Vietnamese materials into his choreography.
Lam To Nhu, who is commonly known as the runner up of Vietnam’s version of So You Think You Can Dance 2012, was also trained in ballet before exploring her interest in contemporary dancing. Before joining the ‘Method’ team, Nhu was quitting dancing professionally due to external pressure to have a stable job. “I worked an office job for about a year but I hate it. It goes against my nature,” Nhu tells Saigoneer.
Lam Duy Phuong, also known as KIM, has been involved in hip-hop and popping for 10 years, with an interest in performance art. KIM’s interested in personal stories and space that can be performed through dancing, as well as drawing movements from different methods to develop his own set of repertoire.
Another member who also has experience in street dancing is Nguyen Duy Thanh, one of the pioneer artists to explore the commonality between hip-hop, contemporary movements and other artistic materials drawn from Asian cultures ever since he started pursuing the art in 2002.
Born in India and currently based in Hanoi, Nguyen Thach Sang is one of the group’s youngest members. Sang worked as a member in the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet in 2017 and is expecting to move to China for further studies.
Nguyen Quang Tu first started his dancing career in 2013 through ballet and folk dance before moving onto contemporary dance in 2015. Tu is currently a student at the Guangxi Art Academy and has won a gold medal at the National Professional Performance Festival 2018.
The music will be composed by Jason Wright, who hails from Wellington and has been working closely with Ross for a long time. Both Ross and Jason are co-founders of Muscle Mouth, a visual dance theater company based in New Zealand. The music for the performance will be recorded using various instruments from the Central Highlands.
The less rigid focus on the choreographer allows space for each member to bring their own voices and gestures into the performance. Bringing together these differences is always a hard feat, however, contemporary dance offers the possibilities for something beyond just a compromise.
“Ballet has about 200 or more steps, there is structure, there is a name to every gesture. That’s not the case in contemporary dance, which is a universe of movements. It’s my job as an artist to find that language,” said Khai.
The title ‘Method,’ according to Ross, reflects the group’s process and approach, rather than the performance itself. This involves bringing different methodologies together and learning from each other to find a “meeting point of our bodies and our bodies’ idiosyncratic methodologies.”
“Maybe I sacrifice the name of the work a bit but I’m okay with it because I believe when you watch it you might see a method, a final method, which is a discovery of all of them, how we all decide to move.”
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