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Dancing to Reconcile

By Gloria Hage

The wounds of war linger long after the battle is over. The Vietnam War may have ended forty years ago, but the war wounds endure for the soldiers who fought, the protesters who resisted U.S. involvement, the Vietnamese refugees who were forced to leave their homeland for America, and the many who wanted to make that same journey, but were left behind. Choreographers Robin Becker of New York City and Le Vu Long of Hanoi, Vietnam, live worlds apart, and neither experienced the Vietnam War directly. Yet decades after the war's end, each set out to create a dance work reflecting the lasting legacy of the Vietnam war, and the pain, loss, and sorrow that live on to this day.

The year 2015 is the 20th anniversary of the renewed diplomatic relations between Vietnam and America, along with the 40th anniversary of the unification of North and South Vietnam. As a celebration and a commemoration of these two events, Robin Becker Dance and Together Higher Dance Company will have a tour of dance performances in Vietnam from September 20 to September 30, 2015 with performances in Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). 

Together Higher Dance Company of Hanoi Vietnam from Robin Becker Dance on Vimeo.

Dancers of Together Higher perform Group of Individuals

Founded in 2002, Together Higher is the first contemporary dance company in Vietnam whose dancers happen to be hearing-impaired. During their tour in Vietnam, the company will perform Group of Individuals from their project Vietnam in the ‘70sAs its title suggests, the work interprets the historic time of unrest during the later years of the protracted war between North and South. It captures the feelings of confusion, grief, and torment shared among Vietnamese people who were separated from both their families as and their country during the war. Through the medium of dance, the piece expresses the joy of reunion, the postwar torment that made people loath to part with their home country — the confusion, the ache of separation — and finally, the act of saying farewell. 

Vu Long believes that the 1970’s was a very important period for Vietnam and its people. During this period, Vietnam experienced tremendous change in many aspects of its culture and society which affected the course of its history. 

“This historical period has strongly influenced Vietnamese choreographers and their works, lasting until today. It can be said that this stage formed an art trend with traditional, realistic, and patriotic images,” says Vu Long. “However, in this project we want to use the language of contemporary dance to deepen the ‘humanism’ that has not yet been exploited. Instead of focusing on praising mighty, imposing images, we will center on the feelings, and psychological changes of the people who lived through this period.” 

The trailer for Into Sunlight

Alongside Together Higher on their co-headlining tour, Robin Becker Dance will perform Into Sunlight, a dance inspired by a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and best selling author David Maraniss' book, They Marched Into Sunlight. The book portrays the tumultuous shift of cultural perspective in the United States, caused by the Vietnam War, through the lens of two simultaneous events — a battle in Vietnam and a protest in Madison, Wisc., which occurred on October 17, 1967. The dance Into Sunlight was premiered at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Hofstra University, New York, where it was the centerpiece for interdisciplinary conferences examining the effects of war and violence on the individual body and the social body, from Vietnam to our present era. Subsequent performances also took place at Georgetown University, Florence Gould Hall, and West Point Military Academy. 

Becker believes that dance is a powerful tool for transformation, providing a context in which we may discover our shared humanity.through the moving, sensing body.

“I embarked upon the creation of this dance, Into Sunlight, hoping that the universal language of the body would contribute to healing and reconciliation. An artistic endeavor offers a communal context in which our stories are shared, recognized, and integrated,” Becker explains. “The arts express a realm of experience that cannot be measured or articulated; yet, they bring people together through a shared experience of what is universally known and deeply felt, offering a context for us all to recognize both ourselves and each other as we re-enact and share our stories. And, I hope that if people can deeply feel together, new and meaningful actions in the world may occur.”

Dancers of Robin Becker Dance talk about performing Into Sunlight

Nicole Sclafani, a dancer at Robin Becker Dance, says of performing Into Sunlight:

“When the work you do is bigger than you, when the subject matter that you bring forth through movement, energy, and emotion makes an audience reflect, imagine, feel deeply, think, and question, when for a brief moment in time, humanity comes together to share in a resonant field and witness the core essence of each other, that for an artist is living the dream. With Into Sunlight, we have the privilege of reaching back and holding hands with history to spark a conversation about the future. We can stand in the present, and be a vessel for those that need a voice.” 

Both dance companies hope that by coming together, utilizing the universal language of dance and its unique ability to transcend language, place, and culture, that they will be able to enhance mutual understanding, facilitate reconciliation, and build a deeper relationship between the people of Vietnam and America. 

To learn more about our Vietnam tour, please visit our website.

*****

*****

Gloria Hage is the Executive Director of Robin Becker Dance.

[Photo courtesy of Robin Becker Dance]

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