|Stephen Petronio. VNS Photo Lê Hương|
Artistes from the prestigious Stephen Petronio Company recently visited Việt Nam in the framework of the DanceMotion USA, a programme of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State, produced by Brooklyn Academy of Music, to facilitate cultural exchange, while showcasing the best in contemporary American dance.
Stephen Petronio is widely regarded as one of the leading dance-markers of his generation. New music, visual art, and fashion collide in his dances, producing powerfully modern landscapes for the senses.
The company which was founded in 1984, has performed in 26 countries across the world.
It gave two shows in Hà Nội and Hải Phòng and hosted two workshops for children with autism and hearing impairment earlier this week.
Lê Hương talks to Patronio behind the scenes:
Inner Sanctum: What is your impression of Việt Nam on your first trip here?
I grew up during the Việt Nam War, so the only impression I had was of what I saw in the news. I was strongly anti-war, so it is amazing for me to come and see the country I knew only through the news. I find the people here warm, the streets exciting and bustling with people, and full of things I hardly understand. It has been exciting for me.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about the students?
I find that the ballet students are well-trained and picking up quickly. It is very interesting to meet high-level trainees. So we had a nice exchange.
Inner Sanctum: How do you think they benefit from your workshops?
I think that you should probably better ask the children [about their benefits]. The benefit that we derive is that we get to meet the beautiful children and move with them. When you are a dancer, the most beautiful thing you can do is move with somebody. So, we are having real experiences with the students, moving with them together. We are getting to touch them and they are getting to touch us emotionally. That is beautiful.
Inner Sanctum: How do dances and motions affect people’s psychology?
This project is part of the mission of the Department of State to reach (out to) everybody with movements. We are open to working with every group. We all have one thing in common – that is motion. So, we can find a common ground for each group, and we are all ready to move.
Inner Sanctum: What motions do you teach the students?
Just the most basic stretching, reaching, touching and waking the bodies up.
Motion helps everybody, not just the students in the class. Everybody needs to get out of the brain and into the body, and experience how the body moves. It is basic to a human being’s happiness. Whatever level that we are moving on, it wakes you up. You have an animal that lives in your body, you wake that animal up to experience it.
Inner Sanctum: Do you have any way of working with special children?
We tend to think that people with disabilities are incapable. However, the beauty of movement is that everybody has some movement in their body. Whatever the level of disability, you, as a teacher will find the way into that motion with them. For a blind person, you touch and reach them. For a deaf person, you make them look at you. If someone has a learning disability, you find a way to communicate with them. It is about being present and communicating, so we tend to think that people with disabilities are somehow lesser than us. It is not true. Everybody has a different kind of movement in them, whether it is the best ballerina, or someone who has few movements. You just have to find out that level.
Inner Sanctum: Will you do another project for children in the future?
We are discussing it right now. It is more about establishing an official training, so that we can get better at what we are doing now. It is not about specific groups, it is about training the dancers to become more professional.
Inner Sanctum: Could you tell us more about your company?
I started my company more than 30 years ago. For many years, the company was just involved in choreography. I would choreograph, and we would perform all over the world. Now, I am bringing the works of the great modern dancers to the United States through my company. Most recently, we have undertaken the project of purchasing a property up on a mountain in the New York State. I will build a centre there, where young choreographers can come and learn to choreograph in the country. — VNS