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Flash Review 2, 9-5:
Mixed Results from In Mixed Company
By Kelly Hargraves
Copyright 2000 Kelly Hargraves
LOS ANGELES -- When my
5-year-old heard I was going to a dance about Vietnam, she was excited
for me, having remembered the Vietnamese dance and music performance
she had seen at the museum recently. I, on the other hand, knowing
that this was about Vietnam after the war and the disappearance
of Amerasian children was a bit more wary. There is a gap in her
knowledge I knew, but I didn't want to tarnish her ideas with the
forgotten history... not yet.
It's this kind of gap
in our history -- or spaces between -- that "SKINning the SurFACE"
addresses. Created by Maura Nguyen Donohue/In Mixed Company, a collective
of visual and performing artists, SurFACE is a one-hour collection
of songs, stories, videos and dances that refer to the many children
that were forgotten, abandoned and mistreated by their American
SurFACE begins with a
spoof of a tourist entering Vietnam, and then connects various sagas
of the children of Vietnamese mothers and their American soldier
fathers. Recurring text keeps the issue fresh and raises the question,
"Would you find a question inside the crease of my eye confusing
your perceptions of who I am and why? If you could see beyond the
spectrum perhaps I'd let you in to find the answer that exists in
the space between blood and skin." This space is a bigger one too.
Issues of Race, Father and Home are mingled in the search for answers
-- of the physical and emotional space between the fathers of the
Vietnam war and the children they left behind. Some sections are
from the child's perspective -- sing-songs and rhythms sometimes
meant to taunt, other times meant to comfort. Other sections are
more laden with information taken from books on the subject. There
is a retelling of statistics, for example that only 1 in 100 children
ever met their fathers; and of the protocols for dealing with these
children, like the air-lifts based on the color of their eyes or
skin (blue eyes/black skin).
The physical distances
between the countries and the families are marked by the continuous
moving on and off stage of the dancers or by moments of limbo, where
they appear to be stuck waiting endlessly. A recurring poignant
image of a dancer wrapped and unwrapped in thick white rope symbolizes
the ties that bind and keep apart.
There are choreographic
and structural spaces -- or gaps -- in "SKINning the SurFACE."
Although each segment is woven into a whole, the themes of each
often vary and an emotional bridge is hard to find from one to the
next. Images of a young girl playing with a father figure or being
taunted by a group of nasty children touch upon sympathy but never
really achieve a deeper concern. Images of the Vietnam War and excerpts
from the historical texts bring the necessary truth to the piece
but remain didactic and surface.
and crew compose ensembles nicely, with a seamless flow of entrances,
exits, lifts and duets, but their vocabulary choices do not fully
resonate from the characters' struggles but rather from their background
of contact improvisation. One solo, danced by a naked Donohue covered
in written text, under the red, white, and blue light of a projected
American flag, definitely shows a sense of anger and frustration.
This is perhaps the dance most closely tied to the emotion of this
piece, but it comes very late in the piece and is so different from
the ensemble dances that it too seems to fall into the void.
Donohue/In Mixed Company
often explore gender and race issues as a basis for work and her
energetic, physical dance style of dance makes the issues a visual
subject. Her research into her subjects is deep and thoughtful and
obviously personal. The gap comes from the difficulty in making
the personal and the physical one. The story of the body must become
the story within the body and the story the body tells. In Donohue's
solos she finds this story but when she tells it through her ensemble
it rises again to the surface and therefore is not nearly as palpable
as she seems to desire it to be.
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