Cooking up a dance feast

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Several sophisticated, difficult dances by Ta Thuy Chi (1st, L) and Nguyen Ngoc Anh (2nd, R). Both are working on a contemporary dance project called "˜Ta da o do' (There where we were) which will take place at Ho Chi Minh City's Opera House on October 25 and 26

Why do you keep eating and providing me food at such a time?"
Nguyen Ngoc Anh's voice is raised in frustration at his colleagues Ta Thuy Chi and others, but his smiling countenance shows he is kidding. 

"We have performances next week, so eat less and work harder so that I am able to carry you on my shoulders," the 33-year-old dancer continues, winking at his partner Chi, who received her masters degree in choreography from the Beijing Dance Academy this year.

Anh and 27-year-old Chi are working on a contemporary dance project called "Ta da o do" (There where we were) which will take place at Ho Chi Minh City's Opera House on October 25 and 26, in which the duo function as directors, choreographers, leading dancers and producers.

For both Chi and Anh, who won a full scholarship at the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts from 1998-2002 and then the Spotlight Award of the Critics' Circle Dance Awards (Outstanding male artist) in UK in 2008, have had to leave their families behind as they pursued their dreams abroad for several years. Ta da o do is their way of recalling a childhood which was "peaceful, happy and full of joy."

Anh first heard about Chi when he met her father, Prof-violinist Ta Bon at the Hong Kong International Airport in 1998. It took the two another 12 years to see each other the first time when they worked at the backstage of contemporary dance project Moc (Wood) by Arabesque dance troupe in HCMC in 2010.

Unlike ballet, which mostly tells stories, contemporary Ta da o do, including four parts, features abstract images and hints, but is "simple enough for everyone to understand as well as see themselves in it," says Anh.

"Life is too short," says the Hanoian dancer, who was trained in classical ballet since the age of 10 at the Vietnam Dance College in the capital before graduating with an honors distinction, "but it doesn't mean we should always conduct ourselves in a hurry like people driving motorbikes in Vietnam.

"We often find ourselves impatient waiting for a few seconds for a red light to turn green, yet spend hours at bars and restaurants."

Different expectations

Apart from sharing common values, Chi and Anh, who say they are nostaligic people, have different expectation from the show.

Regarding the artistic aspect, according to Chi, whose mother is Kim Dung, former deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Dance School and brother is violinist Ta Ton based in the US, the show is something new she is offering to the audience.

"Five dancers have different backgrounds, yet we are here to tell our own stories in contemporary language. As artists, we should keep learning new things to renew ourselves," said Chi, who spent seven years studying Chinese dance with her close friend Linh Nga in Shenzhen city in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.  Then Chi worked for a local theater as a dancer for a few years and later came back Vietnam to teach at the HCMC Dance School to gain some experience before entering the Beijing Academy in 2009.

After their graduation, Linh Nga, whose parents are famous dancers Dang Hung and Vuong Linh, chose to become a professional dancer by spending another four years to study in Beijing and came back Vietnam in 2008. Nga is now a renowned dancer in the country.

Explaining her decision to become a choreographer, Chi told Vietweek: "Nobody wants to see themselves in a difficult situation, and neither do I. Dancers, however, have short lifespans, career-wise, whereas as a choreographer, I have more time and more things to offer. I just want to maximize my capacity."

Her goal to become a choreographer was also inspired by solo Doc tu (romantically singing alone) - a work directed by one of her Chinese teachers for his loved one.

"I was touched by the dance and wanted to have something of my own like him."

During her studies in China, Chi went home every year to join local dance projects and hone her skills.

Ta da o do is something special for her as it marks her first official project after graduation as well as the first collaboration with Anh.

For Anh, one of the dance director's assistants for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the opening of the ROMA09 Swimming World Championship in 2009, Ta da o do is "another episode of his story in dance."

"It is the continuation of what I have done before, yet with new elements, as well as my first live show, in which I have to do from A to Z and am free to present my ideas."

He said his love for dancing was nurtured in an artistic environment, "but to tell the truth, my first motivation is was to go abroad for my neighbors often performed in foreign countries."

He has worked for many theaters and troupes around the world, including the Vietnamese Opera Theater, Hong Kong/New York Dance Company, Les Ballets Persans, Wayne McGregor, Random Dance and Phoenix Dance Theater.

Anh has also been a part-time teacher and a regular choreographer for Doreen Bird College since 2005 and was invited as an external eyes examiner for London Contemporary Dance School 2009-2010.

In May 2010, he was appointed as Rehearsal Director - Dancer for the Henri Oguike Dance Company in UK. He was also co-choreographer with Henri Oguike for the work "Butterfly Dreaming" which premiered on November 1-2 the same year.

Anh is also one of the six choreographers who created a huge success show for English National Ballet's education department called "Swanning Around" in June 2010, and a qualified fitness instructor. He teaches widely in the UK and internationally.

He says Ta da o do, which includes a workshop at the Ho Chi Minh City Open University  for local college students will kick off with dynamic dances to continue the "audience's hasty state from driving from their places to the theater due to traffic jam."

"My only expectation is that the audience are willing to open their beings from body to mind to receive the show. If they don't feel relax or always in denial mode, our efforts are useless."

Anh suggests that in order to promote dancing, especially contemporary dance in Vietnam, both the public and authorities should "open" themselves.

"Artists, we cook and present the food, for if we don't cook, there's nothing to offer, but if people don't eat, they would never know how tasty it is."


Ta da o do will begin 8 p.m. on October 25 and 26 at Ho Chi Minh City Opera House, 7 Lam Son Square, District 1.

Tickets are priced from VND250,000 to 1,000,000

Special guests: Artists Ngo Thuy To Nhu, Nguyen Thi Chuc and Vu Ngoc Khai

Music by musician Quoc Trung, a Vietnam Idol judge

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