Ha Noi Stardust is the result of a collaboration between German choreographer Arco Renz, his Brussels-based ensemble Kobalt Works, and Vietnamese dancers.
Renz talks with Culture Vulture about the piece's debut.
Can you explain the name of the piece?
It's "Ha Noi" obviously because the project takes place in Ha Noi, and the work is with Vietnamese dancers. "Stardust" is something we can't grasp. It may be a dream, something that we are striving for. It might have to do with glamour, with being famous. I take the very basic layer of its definition to mean something magical, a charismatic quality or feeling.
Where does your inspiration come from?
In this case I have no idea what I'm going to do. The performance is about the encounter between all of us who participate. It's a very process-based way of working, where we define the theme and also the expression of this theme along the way.
One goal is to let the process, the encounter, manifest in a performance on stage. A keyword in that process is "negotiation" - give and take, creating a "third space" where we operate and develop a language that we share.
What do you think of the Vietnamese dancers who take part in your piece, and Vietnamese dancers in general?
Most of them are ballet dancers. And one of them, Nguyen Duy Thanh, has a street/hip-hop dance background. He has also performed for many years in the entertainment industry.
And this is an interesting perspective on the history of dance, historically: at some point, classical ballet was entertainment culture. Now classical ballet has become culturally accepted.
The atmosphere in the rehearsals is very positive, constructive and friendly.
I have lived in both Ha Noi and HCM City and co-operate with dancers in these cities. People say that Ha Noi is artistic and HCM City is commercial but it seems much more than just this simple division. In both places, there are very interesting dance projects and artists. There is a lot of potential but the working condition is not easy. Choreographers and dancers struggle with financial and other problems (including lack of formal contemporary dance schools, choreography, and rehearsal spaces).
In Ha Noi Stardust, you collaborate both with artists from the Viet Nam Ballet and Opera Theatre who have classical ballet training, as well as hip-hop dancers. Why did you decide to mix these styles together?
I don't think in term of styles. In my opinion, dance is not about style, but experience. Style is a convention. There are many styles in dancing, and it's great.
In my work, I think in term of a process of transformation. Such a process depends largely on the people I work with - on their background, skills, interests and desire.
The intention of a project like this is not only to produce yet another work on the performing arts market. What is important for me is a shared experience - the experience of a process that will hopefully be meaningful to all participants.
Some of the dancers in this production have strong potential to develop their own work in the future. I'm trying to create an experience that is open and mutually beneficial.
Contemporary dance seems to be abstract and difficult to understand. What do you think about this?
It's a challenge for contemporary dance, and also a challenge for the audience. Because contemporary dance is an invitation to look at things differently, and not to rely on our usual modes of perception.
I think it's important to have a framework, where the audience can reflect on and exchange about the experience of seeing a performance. A place of dialogue and discussion after a performance, for example.
I don't think the audience should understand this or that message. Dance is a form of resistance and affirms multiplicity, including multiplicity of meaning. I'm very happy when I hear that different audience members see very different things in the same dance.
From your personal experience in Viet Nam, what do you like most about this country?
I love Vietnamese food. I have many favourite dishes, including fish noodle soup (bun ca). I also like yoghurt with coffee and ice.
I'm intrigued by the traffic here. It's very chaotic but I like it. The traffic is fluid, slow but constantly moving. HCM City's traffic is also interesting. One-direction street organisation sometimes annoys me, but it seems to make the traffic flow. Perhaps Ha Noi Stardust is about this. — VNS