From Hanoi with Love
It would be glib and inaccurate to make a connection between Le Vu Long/Together Higher’s company, Together Higher’s dancers’ deftness and the ferocity of their dancing in Stories of Us performed at Dance Theater Workshop in March. So too would it be lazy to imply some relationship between the freshness of Stories of Us and the fact that the company is one of the few modern dance companies in Vietnam.
What makes Stories of Us worth the hour and a half of your time is simply that it’s an effective dance about trust and about the difficulty of maintaining an individual, independent self within a group—a group of two, three, or six. It is also danced with unusual clarity and alertness.
Stories of Us begins with a woman alone on the corner of the stage. A gong sounds. We hear muffled voices. She walks, deliberately, slowly around the perimeter of the stage. After duets and group sequences, after watching false toughness turn to tenderness, after coming to learn about each of these dancers’ expressive capabilities, we end up—suddenly, abruptly—watching the six of them march, blandly and indistinguishably around the edge of the stage to the sound of a whistle blowing. Each member steps out for a solo, but the dancing seems desperate somehow and each falls back into place.
This is not about totalitarianism or socialism. This is about being a part of a group, any group. The most memorable section of the performance is very simple. Six dancers stand in a circle, looking around warily. Two come together in the center. One is bowed and kisses the other’s hand. They look around challenging as if to say: “Yeah, so what.” Next it’s a kiss of the neck. Next on the mouth. Then two men kiss. There are flashes of light when each pair meets in the center and these moments are rich and genuinely shocking.
If this is the climax, the quiet heart of what Together Higher is aiming for with Stories of Us, the end of the dance, is a reminder about how fragile self expression is. The final image of the piece has the dancers on the floor in darkness lighting small sparks, faces barely visible in the flicker.
Stories of Us is a sequence of thoughts and observations about how we cheat ourselves and each other, about waste, about the struggle against fear and strength. It is wonderfully and attentively danced, full of small celebrations and lots of sadness.