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!