Out of the more than 30 artists featured in Relay Dance Collective's upcoming show "Beginnings," Truong Nguyen is arguably the most versatile. Whether he's delivering a monologue with emotional intensity and clarity, partnering a female dancer in a pas de deux (or dancing a super sexy Beyonce number in heels at our cabaret fundraiser), the many brilliant and creative facets of this dancer/actor/model/entertainer seem to go on and on.
Truong, whose family hails from Vietnam, will be performing in Gabrielle Nomura's predominantly Asian American cast of "Farewell Shikata ga nai" based on the World War II Incarceration of Japanese Americans. The work, which includes dance, theater and live music by Seattle Kokon Taiko, is made possible by The City of Seattle's Office of Arts & Culture, as well as the Japanese American Citizens League.
For this piece, he reunites with two of his former classmates from Western Washington University's dance and theater departments -- both Gabrielle, as well as Anna White, who now works as a professional screen actress.
"It's so wonderful to see my peers pursuing the arts," Truong said. "I feel like we belong to a supportive community; we help each other out; we create opportunities for each other to showcase our talents."
Q. Describe yourself as an artist; you're involved in a lot of different things!
A. As an artist, I always want to be creating something eye-catching: whether it be through dance, acting, or having my picture taken. I want to create art that moves people. I love the feeling I get with that accomplishment.
Q. How did you get involved with Relay's upcoming show?
A. When I was a senior at Western Washington University, I was asked to be a part of a play produced as an outside project by the WWU faculty, "M. Butterfly." Gabrielle was asked to be a part of it as well. It was such an amazing experience getting to pursue that production; it dealt with orientalism, as well as gender and racial stereotypes. We, performers of Asian ancestry, face many of these things in real life all the time.
After we had both graduated, Gabrielle approached me to dance in her piece for the Relay show, and I was drawn to the concept and story. Although I am not Japanese American, the Vietnamese community and many others have struggled and faced countless hardships coming to America. This work is a celebration of the immigrant experience and the fact that today, we can be proud to be both Asian, as well as American.
Q. What's it been like dancing in this piece?
A. This experience has been very liberating for me. There are not many roles for Asians to be able to perform and dance like this. The opportunity to work with these talented dancers as well as talented taiko drummers has been very rewarding.
Q. Is your Vietnamese heritage important to your identity?
A. My heritage is very important to me due to the fact that my parents came from Vietnam as soon as the war was over. We were always told to celebrate who we are and our family's past. Gabrielle's piece is very important to me because, by remembering the past, we can embrace our difference and know that our ancestors went through a lot to bring us here.
Q. Talk a little bit about what you're doing in Gabrielle's piece.
A. I portray various characters and ideas throughout the performance. I'm dancing, as well as acting, and at times, speaking. I take on various roles: A father protecting his young children. A brother defending his siblings. A young child who is just learning about his heritage. While themes and stories within the larger piece will make sense to people, the way in which Gabrielle presents this material is somewhat abstract: sometimes, the viewer can see and smell the internment camps, the barbed wire, the guard with a gun. Other times, it's like she's processing what her ancestors went through and how it's affected her own life and identity.
Q. You've done serious theater, concert dance, as well as more entertaining and performative projects like burlesque and cabaret. Where exactly does this piece fit in to that spectrum?
A. It's somewhere in the middle. I love dancing with emotion, as well as portraying different characters, from the serious to the silly. My favorite performances are the ones where I can emote and really interact with the other dancers. In my acting classes, I learned to feed off of the cast's energy. In dance classes, I learned to connect with other dancers while I'm moving. Gabrielle's piece melds into one huge energy that I hope the entire audience can feel.
Q. Talk more about your artistic goals.
A. My goal is to definitely get into film. The dream would be to bring back musicals with heavy dance numbers such as "West Side Story" or "Grease." As of right now, however, I am having so much fun getting to know fellow artists around the Seattle area and creating as much as I can with them.
Q. Where else can we see you perform?
A. I tend to jump around the whole Seattle area, but hopefully, you will see my name more frequently around various venues!
By Gabrielle Nomura
It's a really strange thought, but I first performed Mary Kay Bisignano-Vadino's "Surviving the Undertow" 13 years ago in the 8th grade. I'm going to be performing it again very soon in "Beginnings" with some of my lifelong friends who I grew up dancing with.
Mary Kay was one of my first modern-dance teachers. The slender and muscled dance educator, performer and yogi holds a Bachelors Degree in Dance from Western Michigan University and a Masters Degree in Choreography and Performance from U.C.L.A.
Back in 2001 when we were first learning "Undertow," I was intimidated but excited to be trying these luscious and exotic movements, and also, to be dancing with Mary Kay, as well as many of my dance teachers. Mary Kay originally created this as a multi-generational piece; dancers in their early teens (us) and dancers in their 40s and older shared the stage.
At the time, I was a member of Dance Fremont's youth performing company. Mary Kay, and some of our other teachers at Dance Fremont, also performed in Next Stage Dance Theatre, a professional company for mature dancers (based off of similar group affiliated with Nederlands Dans Theater).
Growing up, we young dancers got to perform "Surviving the Undertow" six times with Mary Kay and the Next Stage dancers (this will be the 7th staging), mostly at Broadway Performance Hall and Shorecrest Performing Arts Center. I used to joke that it was "the piece that keeps on giving."
It feels natural and right to be performing it once again in Relay Dance Collective's "Beginnings." While you won't see the Next Stage performers (and we're no longer in our teens, but our 20s and 30s), you will see Mary Kay's poignant and powerful choreography, a piece of our dance heritage, and a work that continues to connect us throughout time. When we decided to use our roots and where we come from as the inspiration for our next show, we knew that "Undertow" would have to be a part of it.
Q. Why does this piece have staying power?
A. I think what draws me back to this piece, and maybe dancers and audiences as well, is that it addresses a very universal human experience. The experience of meeting up with struggle or adversity and having to deal with it; knowing that we can be pulled under or ride the wave and rise above. I also think the music (by Loreena McKennitt) is captivating and helps to create a total experience of the piece
Q. You first worked with us when we were young teenagers! How have we changed or stayed the same?
A. You former Danceworks girls, now women, are such a joy and pleasure to work with. You have retained your youthful spirit and passion for dancing, while also maturing into responsible, thoughtful creative and performing artists. I am totally inspired by you young women, and honored to be working with Relay Dance Collective.
Q. What specifically inspired you to create "Surviving the Undertow"?
A. The inspiration for this piece is actually a heavy and difficult situation which I will try to share with some lightness. A family member was hospitalized and I experienced how very fragile life can be. I really felt “pulled under” but also a response to swim or float back up. Fortunately, this family member recovered, and a week or two later, I went into the studio and choreographed the dance in two or three days. It literally flowed out of me as a response to this experience.
Q. Tell me a little bit about Next Stage Dance Theatre and your
involvement with the company.
A. Next Stage Dance Theater was a collaborative company of dancers and choreographers, founded by the late Dominique Gabella. Our company enjoyed ten years of creating and performing modern dance in Seattle. It was an ideal place for me create new work, to work with other local choreographers, and to stay connected and committed to dance as an expressive art form.
Q. How would you describe yourself as a dance artist?
A. I love to dance. I love to create dances. I love to lose and find myself, and connect with others, in the process of dancing.
Q. What kinds of dances do you like to make?
A. I think I have always been most interested in creating new work, generating new material, (which makes "Undertow" an exception to my usual ways). I really enjoy working with large groups of dancers, and feel fortunate to be a part of Dance Fremont where I have the opportunity to work with amazing young dancers. I have also enjoyed creating works for the Kaleidoscope Dance Company. I like to create dances that are fun and physically satisfying for the dancers while also being visually satisfying for the audience.
Q. What is the next dance project you're going to tackle?
A. I actually do not know what is next. I would like to create something new for myself, a solo piece (I will keep you posted). I actually have a different type of choreographic project this June: teaching at the Dance and the Child International Conference at the University of Washington. I will be facilitating the collaborative creative process of many dancers and helping to get the dance from “seed to stage” in three days. I’m very excited about that and looking forward to tackling that challenge.
Tess Wendel is sort of the brains of the Relay Dance Collective. In addition to being an amazing iPhone cinematographer, fearless leader, event planner and development-director extraordinaire, this dancer loves to create new work (especially if she can be upside-down/doing handstands). At RDC's upcoming show "Beginnings," you'll see her present a new work, a duet on herself and performer Anna Roth, in addition to dancing in Mary Kay Bisignano-Vadino's "Surviving the Undertow," which she first performed as a young high school student.
"Beginnings," RDC's second-season show, is at 7:30 p.m. April 11, 12 and 13 at Theatre Puget Sound's Theatre4 space. Tickets are $15 pre-sale and $20 at the door. To purchase, click here.
Q. Tell me about your choreographic process and working with Anna Roth.
A. It has been great working with Anna. My piece, "Compartir la alegria," which means "sharing joy" in Spanish, is inspired by our friendship which was sparked by a love of dance. The music is contemporary spanish guitar by Rodrigo y Gabriela.
The duet has a fair bit of partnering in it which is not an area of dance I've had a lot of experience with and neither had she so we were both able to experiment. My choreographic process generally involves setting an outline, then piecing together the different bits. Usually, there is a fair amount of revision involved. I really like the movement to be organic for the dancers so it was really great to be able to partner with Anna and move through sections until we found something that felt right.
Q. How has RDC grown and changed since we last spoke?
A. Well we have definitely grown in size -- simply looking at the number of performers in our show (roughly 30) demonstrates that. We are still learning a lot, but we are definitely more organized than we were last year. I think we are also well positioned to continue attracting more Seattle talent and connecting with a wider audience than our first year.
Q. Why should people come see Beginnings?
A. People should come see Beginnings because it is going to be a diverse show with a great group of performers. I guarantee you won't see a mix like this anywhere else in Seattle.
Q. What are some future dance projects you'd like to explore?
A. I'd really like to do an outside, site-specific piece. However, the weather in Seattle is always so questionable this seems a little daunting. Also maybe something that involves climbing ropes ...
Q. What's going to be the biggest challenge for you in the show?
A. Not getting dizzy in my duet. I love spinning around but since surgery, turns and spins have been my biggest physical challenge.
Q. Tell me more about RDC's social benefit component and how you're going to be involved in the future with the classes?
A. We're having at least four free open classes for kids and adults this summer. I'm looking forward to doing a little bit of teaching for a couple of them. I really am looking forward to having RDC partner more long term with a couple of schools. It is really important to do multiple workshops/classes/performances with students and build a strong connection to open those doors of expression, learning and perhaps future participation.
Q. What are you most looking forward to about beginnings?
A. Although I am excited for all of the pieces, I am particularly excited to see Gabrielle Nomura's "Farewell Shikata ga nai" because I love taiko drumming and think she has a compelling story to tell.
Q. How would you like to see RDC develop in the future?
A. I really like that Relay Dance Collective is able to welcome and support a wide net of artists and this is something I hope to see continue in the future. I would like to see some more interesting collaborations with musicians and of course creating more long-term partnerships with other community groups who want to get their feet wet with regard to dancing.