Prying open the stage

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A trio of modern dancers are struggling to transform a small, old theater in Ho Chi Minh City's District 5 into a hive of creative energy.

This January, more than a hundred people (both foreign and local) attended a series of workshops at Le Thanh theater where professional artists taught courses on installation art, performance and experimental dance - all of which remain largely foreign to Vietnam.

Each participant paid just VND100,000 for the experience.

Following the workshops, students gathered to watch their instructors and fellow student artists perform.

Some said they were impressed; others complained that the shows made no sense.

Others just hated the experience.

According to the organizers, a dance group called Arabesque, the class was better than nothing all.

In February, they created another program and attracted another huge audience"”this time the final show included noise music and experimental theater.

One local director and screenwriter said the scope of the project was too broad and that the audience became lost in the mélange of alien, contemporary mediums.

But that may be the whole point.

Arabesque's three founders call it the "Open Stage" project.

The theater's founders

Arabesque consist of up by avant-garde choreographer Tan Loc, and Thanh Phuong and To Nhu a pair of dance teachers from the Ho Chi Minh City School of Dance.

The group performed a few shows together in 2010 before Phuong, 30, came up with the idea for the open stage project.

Phuong returned to Vietnam in 2008 after graduating from the Folkwang Hochschule School of Dance in Essen, Germany, and considers the project the most effective way of nurturing contemporary art in Vietnam.

"This is the way for contemporary art to find its audiences and vice versa," Phuong joked. "The stage is far from the heart of the city."

Phuong said the group welcomes all kinds of creative ideas. But they invite only the most powerful to be performed during their free shows.

Despite the large audiences during the first two programs, Phuong and her team are suffering for their art. This month's workshop and show have been cancelled. They hope to resume in April.

Suffering for your art

HOW TO JOIN THE WORKSHOP

Contact at 090 396 6798 Ms Ha Phuong

Expense: VND100,000/period

Discount 30 percent for students (bring your student cards)

The different types of contemporary performance art that will be performed and discussed include contemporary dance, experimental music, experimental drama and art performance.

To receive free tickets for performance, please contact 090 396 6798 (Ms. Ha Phuong)

Attention: Due to limited space of the venue, seating is first come first served.

For more information about the Open Stage Project, visit:

http://www.facebook.com/event. php?eid= 173489846004526&num_ event_invites= 146#!/note.php?not e_id=468814912983

Or the website: www.arabesque.com.vn

Loc is not afraid to lose money on producing quality shows for the city's art-starved youth.

Regardless, Phuong believes that the project cannot succeed without outside sponsorship and publicity.

"We have no way of popularizing the project, aside from Facebook, so we're having a hard time raising money and sponsorship," Phuong said. "As artists, we really have no idea how to attract sponsors. But we still try. After two programs, I strongly believe that the audiences will not turn their back on this effort."

Phuong said that the difficulty they're facing has been exacerbated by a local discomfort with modern art forms.

"Sometimes, the audiences doesn't care how hard the artists have tried, they just dislike something and that's that," she said. "People bring their own background and experience to their feelings toward a contemporary performance."

She cited, as an example, the mixed reactions she received when she put on a performance about the female form.

"It inspired various explanations," she said. "One friend thought that the performance was all about abortion, because his girlfriend had just had one."

Despite the fact that the project has attracted a lot of attention, the group is having a hard time making ends meet.

Some outside groups have sublet the theater for performances, providing some relief.

"Thanks to the support of HCMC Drama Theater, we can manage to put on a show," she said.

At the very least, Phuong says the group plans to keep the project afloat for a year.

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