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Flash Review 2, 3-24: There is Hope in Your Daughter
In Mixed Territory with Maura Nguyen Donohue and Le Vu Long

By Alissa Cardone
Copyright 2004 Alissa Cardone

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NEW YORK -- Work that is made straight from the heart, from the guts of experience, is the most raw and the most tangible. I wouldn't have anticipated leaving Maura Nguyen Donohue/inmixedcompany and Le Vu Long/Together Higher's collaboration "Enemy/Territory," seen Thursday at Dance Theater Workshop, thinking about love. But content aside for a moment, after absorbing the dynamics of the Vietnamese and American cast, who tackled sensitive issues with a sharp humor and wise innocence while genuinely having fun together, all I wanted to do was go home and listen to Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" I was stunned to learn that Donohue (a contributor to this publication) and Le apparently had just ten days before the DTW premiere to put months of working separately -- Donohue in New York and Vu Long in Vietnam -- together. New York dance audiences should be ashamed for not filling every seat in the house. You can and should; the run continues Friday and Saturday at DTW.

But "Enemy/Territory" isn't a question of like or love so much as one of necessary action. Inspired by Le and dancer Luu Thi Thu Lan's detainment, interrogation, and finger-printing at the US Embassy in Hanoi when they requested permission to travel here for the collaboration (after three weeks of waiting, they were finally given permission to travel at the last moment), the choreographers decided to use the troubling experience to tackle issues related to immigration, territoriality and the "Patriot Act" head on. The result is a piece ripe with inventive and striking images within a slightly unhinged but calculated storm of material that shakes up identity and power politics, commenting on some unfortunate realities of life after 9/11 and the strained freedom we must now negotiate. In this rumble it's the dancers vs. the sound guy, feminine vs.masculine, choreographer vs. choreographer and even the audience isn't spared from the struggle.

When I arrived at DTW, I wondered what the hell I would have to do to just get into the performance. The queue was long and single file, blocked by a serious-looking man in dark glasses asking everyone to have their "papers" ready. We were directed, curtly, to get in line, and nudged sternly when we got too relaxed in forming couples to chit chat. Down the side staircase to the basement we were told to wait, lined up against the wall outside the dressing rooms under fluorescent lights.

Ten minutes later we were allowed to enter the space, where a drunken pretty boy (Brian Nishii) in army fatigues and a "Born to Kill" tee-shirt rolled slap-happy on the floor in front of a black curtain, oddly welcoming us with liquored babbles and hiccups. When later, a soldier yells, "Behind every gook is an American trying to come out!" the pompous attitudes of ignorant sentiments are sadly faced. Hypnotic sections where Le Vu Long's dancers move with a fluid grace are often interrupted by some strange and crass behavior by Donohue's crew, acting the role of oblivious or belligerent soldier, barging in to drop chaos like squeaky bombs on the serene. Such themes are played out, for example, when an intricately intimate duet between Le and Luu Thi Thu Lan is rudely interrupted by Donohue and Nishii, who claim the stage and re-enact some of the more romantic movements of their duet like mean kids making fun of something they don't understand.

Spaces defined by floor projections of light and images (designed and executed by Nishii and lighting designer Jay Ryan) define territory as either imprisoning or protecting. The integration of the projections is seemless and sensible, supporting the dance instead of distracting from it, as video can often do. Who controls those territories is commented on, often comically, as when the lighting designer picks up a megaphone and heckles a tightly packed group of dancers gettin' down dance hall style within a defined area of light, "You call yourself dancers? I wanna see some pirouettes! You pathetic excuses!" He starts calling people out of the light-defined dance-floor, which transforms shape from square to circle to diamond, getting smaller, as dancers are ordered out and sent to the back of the stage to writhe alone, until only one dancer is left. The light becomes a red target and he drops dead to the floor; a sacrificial lamb.

"Enemy/Territory" sucker punches you into a poised state of confusion and just when you think you're lost delivers strong images that penetrate your core. At one particularly poignant moment Donohue and Le's dancers are poised for a draw, lined up on opposite sides facing each other. Donohue and Peggy Cheng playfully act like sex kittens center stage, when suddenly the back curtain opens slightly to reveal a man (Perry Yung) in leather pants and an iron maiden mask carrying a (real) baby (Sasa Mai Ying Yung). The baby motions as if presiding over the terms of an imminent fight. At times, the performance emits the loose exuberance of a pulsing nightclub; at others the tension of a duel. What may seem benign or childish almost always transforms into twisted. "Enemy/Territory" is collaboration at its most turbulent and art at its best, as both inspiration and warning.

The baby appears again at the end, walked through a sea of squatted flies (the dancers) pressed against an ink-splotched overhead projection of a paper document titled "Why the Patriot Act is Not Your Friend." They twitch and slither as if in lengthy throes of dying while the slowed down voice of Jim Morrison sings "this is the end, beautiful friend." As the song fades, the now unmasked man in leather pants walks the child through the killing field and the last thing we hear is the soft whimsical cooing sounds of an innocent. There isn't another way to say I loved this ending.

"Enemy/Territory" was made by the choreographers in collaboration with performers Luu Thi Thu Lan, Trinh Tuan Anh, Nguyen Thi Thu Huong, Nguyen Thi Quynh Nga, Peggy Cheng, Brian Nishii and special guests Rick Ebihara, Kim Ima, and Perry and Sasa Mai Ying Yung.

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