Wednesday, 06/12/2023 10:39

Globally-known choreographer makes new ballet

Choreographer Nguyễn Ngọc Anh. Photo

Middlesex University London's MA in choreography Nguyễn Ngọc Anh has a new ballet entitled Senzen which will premiere at the HCMC Opera House on December 16 and 17.

He was invited to be dance-assistant in the movie Harry Potter and The Fire Cup in 2005 and director-assistant at World Aquatics Championships in Rome in 2009.

Based in Hong Kong, he has worked with numerous art troupes in Hungary, Germany and the UK. He also often has projects with Việt Nam National Opera & Ballet and other dance companies in Việt Nam.

He spoke about his path from ballet dancer to choreographer.

Do you remember when you engaged in choreography?

I trained in ballet in Việt Nam. When I met choreographer Phillippe Cohen who came to Việt Nam for teaching, he became my first teacher of contemporary dance. 

He saw my body and my strong points which suit this genre of dance. He helped me to learn that there is another dance expressing myself. 

The first time I choreographed for myself when I was preparing for my graduation at Việt Nam Dance Academy. At that time, most final-year students performed old dances for their graduation. Repeating from year to year, I was bored. I wanted to do something different. I asked my teacher to let me choreograph my own dance. Then I rehearsed and performed with my best friend. The instinct and quality of choreography probably started at that time, 25 years ago.

You have performed and worked in western countries. What are the differences in dance teaching between Việt Nam and Western countries?

I can say from my own experience when I studied in Việt Nam, the basic difference is in thinking and methods. In Việt Nam, we are trained in one way, and students only listen to their teacher. 

In European countries, they respect students and give them a right to create. They have mutual exchange. However, there are good and bad aspects to both teaching methods. Vietnamese one-way teaching is a harsh training that does produce skilled dancers, whilst teaching method in western countries raise different opinions during the learning process. 

What is most needed for a dancer and a choreographer to do their best work?

A dancer basically needs to be gifted and have an ideal body, plus hard practice to gain dancing techniques and skills. These two factors must interact with each other, and are equally important.

A Vietnamese verse says "you can't make bricks without straw". A choreographer needs thinking and quality. 

Both dancer and choreographer need a passion to pursuit their career. They must be sensitive with the body, music and living environment around them. 

Like me, sometimes I think I'm a little "crazy". On the street or in the subway, in front of a crowd, or in front of a beautiful scene that gives me a lot of inspiration. I’m not embarrassed to dance on the spot.

Your works Linh Hồn Của Champa or Đông Hồ characterise Vietnamese culture. Why did you do that?

I want to combine ballet, contemporary and folk dances in my works. It is natural as my personal career development journey including studying ballet, researching folk dance and working with contemporary dance. 

These three foundations are already inside of me, in my veins, my soul and my thought. When I work it comes out naturally. Besides, it includes my experiences in life.

During the years I worked in Europe, there were very few dancers from Việt Nam, while there were quite a few dancers from Taiwan, Korea, Japan and mainland China. When I introduced myself as Vietnamese dancer, almost of them seemed extremely surprised. Perhaps they thought Việt Nam didn't have dancers.

When I came to London, the first work I choreographed was also about Việt Nam. It was about paddy. It was performed at the Studio Theatre of the Royal Opera House.

The next work I made about Vọng Phu Island with the image of a mat that I bought from Việt Nam and brought to perform on the stage. I also used music from the Eclipse album by Hà Trần. 

Dance is a non-verbal art form. In your opinion, does dance need to create philosophy?

Whether or not philosophy belongs to the choreographer personally, there are works that have no plot or little narrative but still convey a message. Philosophy can change life. I often feel I am releasing energy into my works. I have many ups and downs in life, so I want to put them into my works and turn them into a philosophy of life.

I want to talk more broadly about Asian philosophies about duality, such as giving and receiving, movement and stillness, hardness and softness.

Like the image of the Vietnamese bamboo tree which is flexible, durable and resilient for many generations. I read No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering of Vietnamese monk Thích Nhất Hạnh. I am extremely interested in this Buddhist philosophy. All noble achievements come through hard work. 

I used the image of lotus in Till We Meet Again which received Best Choreographer nomination at Hong Kong Dance World 2022.

The upcoming show Senzen performed by Arabesque troupe in HCM City also has the theme of lotus and zen.

Ballet and contemporary have been the two main dance schools. How do you think dance will develop in the world and what kind of fusion will there be?

Contemporary dance has spread everywhere. Form will change and there will be more interference between schools, for example kungfu and dance, latino and ballet, etc.

The boundaries will blur and the interaction will find new voices and new expressions. In the flat world, dancers need to find their nature and their root aiming to find new things. It is a good sign. 

You and your wife established Alpha School of Dance in Hong Kong. Do you have the same one in Việt Nam?

We set up the school in Hong Kong in 2005. Before that I was in Britain. The school is a home for us. It is also how we earn our living. The school has British Royal Academy of Dance certification. 

We established the school Lavelle Studio in Việt Nam in 2018 in HCM City. – VNS

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