Le Vu Long was born a choreographer, but his name became familiar to Ha Noi audiences through the TV serial Xin Hay Tin Em. Lately, he has returned to the stage with a new project, in which the stars are hearing-impaired dancers. Dong Mai talks to him about his latest work. Inner Sanctum: It seems you were one of the first people to work in Vietnamese contemporary dance.
In 1999, when I was working at Viet Nam Opera Ballet Theatre, I was lucky enough to be sent to France to study contemporary dance for two years. The trip was sponsored by the theatre and an artistic centre in France. When I returned home, we had almost no premise for the birth of contemporary dance, starting with training and theory, then adding choreographers and actors. Audiences are no exception. The art marketing and atmosphere at that time was so bleak and timid that viewers were self-conscious about the theory of "modernity". Today, the word "modernity" has been seriously misused.
Inner Sanctum: Did you feel disappointed that all your previous training was wasted and you had to start all over again?
Indeed, I was quite puzzled. At first, things appeared to be running smoothly and normally. I returned home from abroad in 2001 with three choreographers to stage a programme entitled Lang Nghe Dem Khong Loi (Listen to soundless night) at the Ha Noi Opera House. It was a Vietnamese night, not for foreign projects.
I then proposed the directing board of the Viet Nam National Opera and Ballet establish a contemporary dance troupe, which is the clear trend of the future. We need initiative. We can't only rely on opportunities to work as hired labour for international contemporary dance projects in Viet Nam. However, my idea has not been approved.
Inner Sanctum: Is that why you established your own dance troupe?
Well, things did not happen that way. For a long time, I was busy with the thoughts and choices that filled up my mind. The heavy feeling was somewhat erased when my wife gave birth to our first child. When I felt sad, I touched her belly and felt the movement of the child. I found out that the silent communication between people was indeed interesting and emotional, and there is truly a world that exists within us before we communicate by words.
Inner Sanctum: And what has fate brought to you?
My wife studied ballet in the Soviet Union for many years. In 1986, the Chernobyl disaster occurred. Some people in her class evacuated quite late, so some got affected by radioactivity. We got married not thinking about that. After the child was born, I told myself that I would have to accept all the bad situations that could happen. I did not do anything, wandering around, strolling to the cafes for hearing-impaired persons. There I observed and spoke to them, getting myself ready to understand their world better.
I then asked them to teach me their sign language. In return, I promised to show them body language. I also lent a rehearsal room and wrote a scenario named Noi Den (Destination) for my team.
Inner Sanctum: What you mean is things happened naturally, continuously and logically?
After finishing our rehearsals, there was an exclusive performance in the theatre for all of the theatre's staff. There were some veteran actors and actresses that day, and they asked me why I did not publicise this activity. Therefore, we took better care of Destination and had two live shows at Ha Noi Opera House.
Meanwhile, my son was born. All of a sudden, I received messages from my deaf friends, saying they wished to dance with me more and asking when the next show would begin. They had brought me so much joy, why would I not return the favour? I continued to work on my second play, Mat Bao (Storm Eyes), and got approval to form a new dancing troupe sponsored by the theatre.
Inner Sanctum: What did you learn from eleven years of working with hearing-impaired people throughout tens of plays?
In my mind, I gradually realised that the world of silence is full of interesting things. By not hearing, you don't have to know all the troubling things that happen in daily life. I also get assistance from my wife Thu Lan, who helps me set up the plays everyday. Thinking back, it was so strange that we were able to practice in silence for eight hours. As we got used to that calmness, we communicated in whispers all the time.
Inner Sanctum: How is the constant touring? Many modern dance groups cannot follow such a schedule.
Actually, it is not constant. We also received support from international projects. In return, blood and sweat have to be shed. We cannot do art cursorily, no matter what the reason is. I'm confident enough to say half of my twenty dancers have reached a very high skill level.
In real life, they come from different walks of life. However, when they are on stage, I treat them all strictly. For example, the play named Ky Uc Tho Dai (Memory of Sighing), which we did two years ago. It took us seven months and ten hours each day to practise it. No group has done it like us before.
Inner Sanctum: Recently, audiences have not seen many of your plays. Can you explain why?
Indeed. Previously, we performed one play every year. Recently, we've focused on making bigger plays, like Memory of Sighing or Ba Mat Mot Loi (Witnessing Together). I want each of my plays to have a long life. — VNS