Battery Dance Company worked and performed here as a part of an 8-day program in Vietnam serving as a cultural representation in recognition of the 10th Anniversary of normalized relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.
Hospitality is at a premium in Vietnam. Bring gifts to reciprocate at least in some measure. Arrive at least 15 minutes or so before an event such as a master class or talk because there will often be a formality, a meet-and-greet with the directors of the school or institution, involving drinks and snacks. This can be a challenge for dancers who want to warm up and prepare to teach a class, but politeness requires it.
Master Class in Modern Dance 1
The directors and one or two of the dancers of the Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Company have had some exposure to the U.S. through a program sponsored by Dance Theatre Workshop. Several of the dancers have trained in Russia and France. The overall attitude was very welcoming and respectful. We learned an important lesson at this first program: that going for a master class in Vietnam is a big event, and that the formalities are important – be prepared to meet with the directors beforehand, share biographical information, establish mutual good will, present gifts (we had BDC Company t-shirts and brochures with us, luckily!). We were stunned not only by the fruits, elaborate flowers, gifts, etc., but also by the 25 foot cloth banner that was installed in the dance studio welcoming Battery Dance Company to the HBSO, with American and Vietnamese logos. We found similar treatment throughout HCMC, and somewhat less so in Hanoi. The heat was intense in the studio. Two BDC dancers gave a 45 minute technique warm-up, modern style, and then progressed to combinations, all of which were well executed by the participants. They were then asked to perform, so they each presented their solos which were accorded huge ovations by the Vietnamese dancers. We were then treated to three dance items from the HCMC Opera Ballet, including a traditional item in which a solo dancer carried a miniature golden temple on a platter while dancing, and two ensemble pieces. I was asked to approve the two items for inclusion in our program at the Opera House, a courtesy that touched me.
Master Class in Ballet
We visited HCMC Dance School, met with the directors and instructors and students in a preliminary get-together (again with much fruit, cookies and water) and the sharing of biographical information around the table by the entire faculty of the school and some senior students. The ballet master class was taught to approximately 50 students, observed by another 25 - 30 students and all of the faculty. The students acquitted themselves to varied effect. We spotted some problems in the training (students forcing 180-degree turnout that they were unable to support, leaning back, etc.) but because this was a one-time class, and with all of the faculty carefully observing, we kept criticism to a minimum and dispensed it light-handedly.
Master Class in Hip Hop
The same students who attended the master ballet class also participated in this short hip hop class. Teens are teens anywhere in the world, so the students who had looked stylized and elegant in the ballet class immediately morphed into urban toughs with the requisite attitude and posturing in order to approach the material the teacher gave them. All gathered around at the end for the obligatory group photos.
Solo Project Performance
We all adjourned to the school’s auditorium for a presentation of Solo performances by 3 members of Battery Dance and 3 dance items by the school dancers. Then the BDC dancers (and Jonathan) learned the Bamboo Pole Dance, traditional Vietnamese folk dance, causing much hilarity among the participants (we had to hop down a line of dancers who were slamming bamboo poles together – staying in rhythm and placing our feet properly, or else risk having our ankles slammed!)
Master Class in Modern Dance 2
The second modern master class was taught at the HCMC Theatrical Company attended by 25 dancers, professionals and amateurs, ages 19 – 25. These skilled dancers represented a pretty high level of modern technique. This group was led by a choreographer whose talent and artistry was immediately apparent through the short ensemble piece that his dancers showed for us after the master class. He has visited New York’s Dance Theatre Workshop and is very open to collaboration and interaction. Many of his dancers were familiar to us as they were also members of the HBSO and had taken part in the first modern master class the previous day. His group is an independent company and suffers the indignities and challenges of neither having official recognition nor funding. They perform for corporate events and the like in order to bring in whatever revenues they can, but it appears to be a mostly self-supported effort at this point (despite its extremely high level.)
Matinee Performance at the HCMC Opera House
The program included 4 works by Battery Dance Company straddling two works by the HSOB Company. We were gratified by a full house and generous applause. Comments during and after the performance indicated that the audience was sophisticated and varied in its taste. Holding hands with our colleagues from the local HSOB in the final curtain call felt great!