The programme commemorating the 990th anniversary of Thanh Hóa Province, directed by Lê Quý Dương. The event received widespread acclaim from the audience and the public. Photos courtesy of Lê Quý Dương
By Minh Thu
Thousands of people donned raincoats and carried umbrellas on May 8, braving the driving rain to enjoy the art performance held to commemorate the 990th anniversary of the central province of Thanh Hóa.
For director Lê Quý Dương, the audience’s attention despite the bad the weather was the biggest reward.
Dương was the writer and director of many remarkable events such as the Đà Nẵng Fireworks Festival, the Huế Festival, the Nha Trang Sea Festival, the Bến Tre Coconut Festival, the Sóc Trăng Rice Festival, the Buôn Ma Thuột Coffee Festival and the Việt Nam Film Festival.
He has clear criteria for all the programmes he agrees to work on. They must respect traditional values while honouring the culture, history and art of the nation. In his work, he promotes Vietnamese values to the world and applies creative techniques from around the world.
Dương was born in 1968 to a well-off family in Hà Nội. He graduated at the top of his class from the University of Theatre and Cinema in 1990. Thanks to his good marks, he was accepted to work at the Department of Performing Arts under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
At the age of 22, Dương became the youngest member of the Việt Nam Association of Stage Artists. His scripts and stage work were highly appreciated by professional experts.
Director Lê Quý Dương in action. He has said directing is a difficult work because it requires collaborating with a team and inspiring other people. Photo courtesy of Lê Quý Dương
He seemed to be enjoying the perfect start to a career many can only dream of. But to the surprise of his family and colleagues, he quit his job to do further study abroad.
“With my own money, I went to Australia to study stage directing,” said Dương. “At that time I thought that I needed to study more, so I went.”
“It was an adventurous decision,” he said. “I had to do different jobs to earn a living and pay for my studies, from washing at restaurants to picking apples at farms and assisting at theatres in Sydney.”
“The youthful energy urged me to go,” he said. “It told me that I lack many things and there are many interesting things in the world.”
“Beside the professional knowledge and experience, I also adopted an attitude towards art: stay passionate and creative and never be satisfied with myself,” said Dương.
After earning a master’s degree at the National Institute of Dramatic Art at the University of New South Wales, Dương received a scholarship to study at the Los Angeles Film School.
He has spent 15 years studying and working in Australia, the US, France and the UK to pursue his directing career.
“I never feel it’s enough to study, directing is a difficult work,” he said.
“While a painter or writer can work alone, a director has to work with a team, he has to inspire other people and connect people at different positions to make a perfect programme.”
Director Lê Quý Dương (right) and Professor Trần Văn Khê.
One of the people who had a great influence on Dương was Professor Trần Văn Khê (1921-2015), who was the first Vietnamese person to gain a doctorate in musicology in France and become a lecturer at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
In 2001, Dương took part in the Melbourne International Arts Festival. He spent six months in Paris seeking the advice of Prof Khê, but he never got a chance to meet with the prominent expert.
But somehow, Khê had heard about Dương and attended a programme directed by him. Khê said he was impressed by the young director and they became friends.
“I always considered Khê my teacher,” Dương said. “He once told me: ‘no matter where you go and what you do, you will return to the homeland like me’.”
“It’s true. Though I have had many chances abroad, I still follow Khê to come back to Việt Nam and devote myself to the national art.”
Khê wrote a letter to Dương and remarked that he was impressed with how Dương enriched traditional art with modern features learnt abroad while preserving the classic factors.
Khê praised Dương’s talent and love for traditional culture.
“Dương makes modern creations based on old art of the nation; not many directors can do that,” Khê wrote on his website. “I always try to update traditional art but preserve the old features. Dương is one of the young artists who can help me continue this work.”
Dương is committed to steering the future of Vietnamese in a direction Khê would approve of.
“When I direct programmes for entertainment or political and socio-cultural purposes, I always focus on the culture and history of the locality,” he said. “That can make the programme touch people’s hearts and be remembered. I want to create cultural brands, not only cultural events.
“The Nha Trang Sea Festival, Huế Festival and Đà Nẵng Fireworks Festival have become brands for local tourism. These festivals are cultural products that make people know about the localities.”
Apart from directing programmes that contain aspects traditional culture, Dương also focuses on training the next generation of young directors.
In 2009, he set up a training centre for directing, called Lê Quý Dương – Creative House. As a member of the Executive Council of the International Theatre Institute, Dương has connections with many experts. He wants to invite them to Việt Nam to share their experiences and knowledge with Vietnamese directors.
He told Việt Nam News that he would organise a festival of performing arts schools in the Asia-Pacific region in September. Delegations from 17 countries have already registered to join.
“It will be a good chance for Vietnamese directors and artists to exchange with foreign experts,” he said. VNS