Monday, December 12, 2011

Helicopters: sound and movement binaries

On Wednesday, the dancers and I had the great pleasure of working with musician collaborators Alex Hills and Trevor Williams to begin to explore how the soundscape of Project Agent Orange could exist symbiotically with the movement. I was interested in exploring how sound and movement could each maintain their sense of autonomy while also converging at points and diverging at others. I wanted the sound and movement to communicate: each with their own cadence, yet each with an ear to the ground, listening for the other’s next move.

How could each individual element breathe more life into the other?

In rehearsal, we focused on the “Helicopter” phrase, as the movement phrase was well settled in our bodies, and we had never found a fitting soundscape to accompany it. In revisiting the phrase, the dancers and I considered the difference created in the quality of movement when we transitioned between “piercing” and “rebounding.” Rather than constantly carrying tension in our bodies, how could the feeling of impending terror be achieved by the passage between full force and response? How could we communicate both the calm before the storm and the tempest itself?

When I originally created the Helicopter phrase, I was interested in the paradox that helicopters represented. I articulated these as diametrically opposed ideas though in reality they were probably more interwoven than the binary suggests. How did helicopters represent:

  • Life and Death: the vehicle that flew in and airlifted injured soldiers and Vietnamese refugees alike vs. the metallic skeleton of a machine that sprayed herbicides and defoliants
  • Salvation and Destruction
  • Hope and Despair
How could the sound offer texture to this exploration while not merely illustrating the movement cadences?

In order to communicate these ideas, and establish the atmosphere of this rehearsal, I read a bit of the novel, The Unwanted, by Kien Nguyen, who describes his memory of the last helicopters to ever land in Vietnam. (Thanks Anthony Bui, for suggesting the book).

In response to the excerpt, Morgana articulated how quickly the image of the helicopter could shift from positive to negative; how the time between safety and fear was liminal, brief, startling. As such, we began to put these ideas into movement. The following is a short video of the beginning of that exploration.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

for those who came before:

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity this weekend to meet Ben Quick, in person, after having exchanged many emails, phone calls, and notes about one another's work. I could tell that we understood each other on an aesthetic level, and I was happy to share the creative space with an artist who is working towards a similar end.

I also had the opportunity to share dinner with Heather Bowsher, Merle Ratner of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign, Ngo Thanh Nhan macroactivist for Vietnam, and several other inspiring individuals who have paved the way when it comes to activism and legislation related to Agent Orange. These were the movers and the shakers of the decade. I was extremely humbled by the extent of work that had already been accomplished (much of which before I was born!) and I am excited by the potential of my involvement in the development of this work in my own avenue of change: movement and performance.

As such, I engaged in a brief discussion with Heather about the problematics and politics involved with engaging individuals with disabilities in a staged performance. She shared with me her hesitation about the sometimes exploitative nature of exhibiting disabled bodies on stage. Though we did not have the chance to delve much deeper into this topic, I am motivated to continue to explore how individuals can exist on stage as individuals rather than bodies as referents to some other message or agenda. Though we will continue to read visual labels onto the bodies we see, as we have become an increasingly visually-dependent culture and our heuristics for understanding the world can only do so much to articulate the nuances of our experience, I am interested in creating an experience that summons the idea of Agent Orange, while still remaining true to my knowledge and experience of the topic.

I think the key to doing this is to return to elemental and sensorial concepts void of imposed external narrative:
energy exchange

With this return to elements, we are continuing to explore basic sensorial experience again: touch, taste, smell, sight. I asked my dancers this week to review the material and structure we had created, but to try and experience each moment newly, in the present.

We explored:

finding the negative space
filling the holes in energy
seeking out energy and attaching yourself to it

Energy exchange--
Moving from external sources of energy to illuminate internal sources
imagining rays of light as heat and energy entering the body and propelling the work
indulging in a moment, experiencing only a moment of a phrase and
"throwing the rest away"

how pacing of others around us affect our work
how we the contrast in tempos between dancers causes a change in energy

Sunday, December 4, 2011



Dear Backers,

Thanks to your generous contributions we have raised a total of $6,222 during our one-month online campaign!!! I am humbled by the amazing number of people who have come out to support this important work--there were a total of 121 online backers, 7 donors who sent in checks, and many more who showed their support by sharing our project through various online media platforms.

With the money raised, we have secured a spot at Dixon Place, and will perform on May 31, June 1, and June 2 at 9:30 pm in New York City. Make sure to start looking for airfare specials now as we would love to share this work with all of our valued donors in person!

In the meantime, there are many ways to stay connected with Project Agent Orange!

  • Continue reading our Blog to stay up to date on recent news and progress!
  • Join our Facebook page
  • Follow us on Twitter! @ProjectAgentO
  • It is not too late to donate! We are setting up a fund with a fiscal sponsor so that your future donations (or those of your friends who missed the deadline by mere minutes!) are tax-deductible!

AND, don't forget that many of you have valued rewards on the way!
We will be in touch with video updates, information about reserving your VIP tickets to the Spring show, and Works In Progress Showings. For those of you based in NYC, we will have our first Works In Progress showing on Wednesday, Dec 14th, 8pm at Chez Bushwick, 304 Boerum St, Brooklyn, NY. Hope to see you there!

Lastly, I cannot begin to express my sincerest gratitude for all of your support thus far. What once was a simple idea thought up on an L train into Manhattan, has now become an international project gaining publicity and support from collaborators in the non-profit sector, various artists, and policy makers. The work has just begun! Thank you for helping making Project Agent Orange a reality, and for believing in the ability of art to catalyze significant social change.

Much love and admiration,

Natalia Duong

Monday, November 14, 2011

Back to work!

Last night we had our first rehearsal since August
and while it felt like a lifetime since our last time together
stepping into Chez Bushwick felt just like home.

Many of us experienced large-scale life changes in our time apart--
some small but poignant, others grand and cataclysmic--
but we were happy to be sharing in the creative space once more.

The first half of rehearsal was dedicated to an exchange of ideas:
Where were people at in terms of thinking about the project?
What was the impact of having so many supporters on our Kickstarter campaign?
Which other administrative, personal, and bureaucratic relationships had been established?

The second half of rehearsal focused on sensorial experiences and energy exchange.
Since it had been so long since we had moved in the space together, I encouraged the dancers to elementarily explore the shared environment and the collective energy again. We focused on familiar modalities: sight and touch, and found new ones; smell and taste. We also explored notions of energy created by friction between body parts, between bodies and external surfaces, and internal qi. From this point we began to see how energy could be passed between dancers so that the exchange was actually tangible and somatically understood.

With this heightened awareness and attention to sensorial experiences of energy, we revisited some old phrase work and began to undermine the structure of the choreography that had already been created. Dancers like to call this "playtime," and rightfully so, as the exploratory process of learning to move newly in a previously learned pattern became our challenge.

I am energized and excited about the work to come!
Stay tuned and spread the word, Project Agent Orange is taking off!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reflection on the Project: Morgana Phlaum

[Editor's Note: Morgana Phlaum, a dancer in Project Agent Orange, discusses her experience working in the collective. I met Morgana at a dance audition within days of her move to NYC. She was present at the very moment when I decided to start my own collective, and was the person who encouraged me to take the leap that cold winter night on the F train. I'm so glad she did! Stay tuned for more insights from other PAO dancers!]

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Able Movement: Sasha Nelson

[Editors Note: The following videos and text were sent to me from one of the PAO dancers, Sasha Nelson, as she felt they represented her personal connection to the project. What follows is her articulation of how movement highlights differences in bodies.]

I love these videos and think they relate to the PAO project in terms of moving with/without limbs or a fully functioning body. This video blew me away; I think anyone who watches will gain an entirely new respect for those who can move without the fortune of having all of our limbs (much like the survivors of AO):

This video brings up the same feeling of gratitude towards my able-bodied self in a different way; the movement is so beautiful, and I love how the two bodies connect as one fluid movement throughout the entire piece. Makes me appreciate and adore the ability to move and the unlimited possibilities in which we can do so:

Monday, October 17, 2011

the creators project: connection mediated by technology

I spent the afternoon in DUMBO today at the creators project
plowing my way through crowds drawn by the next generation of art making--
installations and projects from around the world, that had traveled the physical world,
to arrive in New York.

I described it to my Dad as "kinda like Macworld except more artsy, or rather more aesthetically oriented and less utilitarian." In particular, I was thinking of the iPhone app that recorded the duration of the fall using an internal accelerometer. Ok Free Fall High Score, I get the antagonism. That's fine.

Mostly, I walked away with the idea that we are moving into yet another level of interactive art. Relational Art of the '90s doesn't cut it anymore, sorry Rirkrit. In a world where you can tweet, text, and blog your vote in a matter of seconds (for the President or the Idol), art installations are engaging viewers to an extreme they never have before. It's not about the artist interacting with just the art piece, and it's not even about the artist interacting with the audience anymore. Now, art requires that the audience members interact with one another--all mediated through the medium of technology. Dialogue in 0s and 1s much as we do outside the walls of the gallery.

The majority of the pieces entice the viewer's direct action: SuperUber's SuperPong game that was a digital amalgamation of Pong and Foosball; Meditation by Minha Yang, which featured three speakers and red light beams that responded to viewers intentional salutes; and Six-Forty by Four-Eighty by Zigelbaum + Coelho, which was like a sophisticated version of those light up peg games. There was even a meta-articulation of the breakdown of communication as mediated by technology! Diskinect by Team Diskinect examined the failure of a Kinect console to accurately recreate a human's actions on a rigged marionette.

Most effective, however, was Jonathan Glazer and J. Spaceman's A physical manifestation of Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space. A dark winding corridor gives way to a hall with four diagonal skylights leading to overly iridescent lightbulbs sending shafts of light into the space. Hipsters and designers alike were sprawled out on the floor staring into thousands of watts of eye damage and I was thinking... kitsch. And then I lied down.


Glazer and Spaceman succeed in recreating the equivalent of stained glass windows to a peasant with bubonic plague. From the reverberations of sound waves through the floor, to the sunny glow of isolated wells of light, this small warehouse in Brooklyn had me looking for St. Peter's key. It was transcendent, ethereal, and perhaps even a bit extraterrestrial. And the reason why it succeeded was that in that moment, there was a transference of awe that was shared in and through the bodies of the witnesses. Organized religion and transubstantiation aside, the experience was wholly somatic, and thus, did not require translation.

This is what I strive for in my choreography.

To make work that is in and on the body, that is felt in and on the body.
Aesthetic appreciation and visual literacy aside, I want to make work that transfers from one body to another, so that there is no need for intermediaries.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


After a brief hiatus from this blog, Project Agent Orange has found an increased online presence in other forms. As we embark on a new stage in our process, we are excited to be featured on the Make Agent Orange History website!

We are also planning an evening length performance for Spring 2012 in New York City so stay tuned for details about the location and exact dates of the performance.

As such, we will be launching a Kickstarter online crowd funding campaign on November 1, 2011. We are looking forward to sharing our work with you and would appreciate any support you can offer.

As I (Natalia) have been taking on a more administrative role as of late, the dancers and I have not had as much working time in the studio. However, there are many artistic developments on the horizon. The dancers and I will continue to stay abreast of the research and development that is occurring regarding the clean up of Agent Orange in Vietnam as well as the other efforts nonprofit and governmental organizations are taking on. In addition, the blog will begin to reflect the cooperative nature of our work.

So stay tuned, because this is the calm before the storm and there is still much ahead of us!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dioxin in America

Jon Stewart interviews Lisa P. Jackson, EPA administrator, about Dioxin and Mercury levels in the U.S. on The Daily Show.

Check it out here

Wednesday, May 4, 2011



The piece will premiere Saturday, May 7, 8pm at the Schermerhorn Theater, Brooklyn, NY as part of the First Look Choreographer's Festival at the Brooklyn Ballet.

It will also be shown May 11 at 8pm and May 15 at 5pm at The Secret Theater in Long Island City, Queens, NY in the Queens Fringe Festival.

Below are links to film clips on the Make Agent Orange History website that exhibit different elements of the issue at hand.

"The Resilience of Children" clip from The Friendship Village directed by Michelle Mason

"A Mother's Choice" clip from directed by John Trinh

Agent Orange: A Terrible Legacy, talkingeyesmedia, photography by Catherine Karnow

This first part of the performance was particularly inspired by "A Mother's Choice." Come see for yourself!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Black April

Today marks the 36th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, the recorded end of the American-Vietnam War.

I thought I'd post some photo inspiration for different elements in Project Agent Orange. I've seen most of these pieces either at the Voyeurism show at the SFMOMA or in Berlin--all produced a very visceral reaction in me.

washing sequence.
Gormley, Another Place
Gormley, Another Place

mother and child. mother and soldier. mother and the dead.
Pièta, Michelangelo, 1498-1499
A statue of Bickerdyke, 1860
Mother with her dead son, Käthe Kollwitz, Neue Wache, Berlin

NOTE: I decided when I started this project that I would attempt to create a project about Agent Orange and its effects without exploiting the images of survivors for the purposes of shock and awe, or useless sensationalism. I have included photos below that inform the work I am doing; I believe they are still in line with my initial decision.


VIETNAM. Cam Nghia. Single mother, TRUONG Thi Thuy, 36, with her daughter, TRAN Thi Kieu who was born without eyes. She is also dumb and has some hearing recognition. She is happy most of the time, but when the weather changes she clenches her fists, shout and pokes at her eyesockets. 1998


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Khao Khat: inherited thirst, breath, guilt, desire.

khao khát

Photo by Peter Duong, 2011.
Hi Nat.!
Attached is the picture of a "Girl drinking water". Its title is "Khao khat" means "Thirsty",
but it has another meaning "Nostalgia", a homesick feeling for the old Vietnamese people living outside of Vietnam.
Miss you
I love you.

Ong Noi.

I recently wrote a poem in response to my performance piece on Agent Orange, that started with I wake in the wake of my grandfather's inhale. At the time, I was writing from a fictional standpoint that did not necessarily implicate my own grandfather, though somehow I believed that I inherited the Vietnam War, just as other young Vietnamese Americans have.

Then, in a moment of pure aesthetic serendipity, I found a perfect piece of inspiration while viewing my grandfather's photographs during my recent trip back to California. It was sprawled out there on his carpet, a color image printed on a canvas scroll. The picture above, titled Khao Khat, is my grandfather's depiction of the idiom. Some online dictionary definitions as well as my grandfather's explanation are listed above.

This notion, Khao Khat, represents my connection to the war, to this project, and to my family on many levels. I believe there is a shared continued thirst for closure after 36 years of healing, a shared breath in the wake of a country rebuilding its image, infrastructure, and landscape, a shared guilt felt from an inability to stop previous violence, and a shared desire to move forward in some meaningful way. While my grandfather is nostalgic for a country he used to know, I am nostalgic for a country I never knew. I only imagined it in the empty lots between the tin roof shacks and granite Mercedes dealerships in Ho Chi Minh City, in the empty spaces between the narratives of boat people and the newspaper images of American GIs.

This project was started as a selfish solution to an idea that lived in my body and refused to go away. It has turned into something much greater than myself. I have not inherited dioxin in my blood, but I carry it in my bloodlines.

The piece directly reflects this idea: Khao Khat: To be gasping for...

Monday, April 25, 2011

inherited inspirations

In response to the question: "Why are your women performers wearing all black?"
Choreographer, Ea Sola, responds: "Why do fathers keep sending their sons to war to fight other sons whose fathers haven sent them to fight the war?" (*quoted from memory)

I first became interested in the ways that people inherit war after watching a performance of Ea Sola's Drought and Rain vol. 2 in February of 2008 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the summer before I interned there.

Three years later, I have gratefully begun to explore that inheritance through the moving body.

exercise in repetition

Took a workshop with Ben Rasmussen as part of ClassClassClass.
Investigated Repetition as a choreographic structure.

Some choreographers use repetition to develop a motif or a phrase structure (A, A', etc.) within a work. This requires that a particular movement or gesture is repeated and then built upon. There is a sense of completeness garnered from the recognition of a movement that has been performed before. A sense of catharsis in the progression of that movement.

Other choreographers choose to repeat a certain gesture without a choreographed sense of development; however, despite the prescribed reluctance towards change, there is inevitably an evolution of repeated movement when performed by a human being. We are not machines. In the same vain as why Rauschenberg's Factum 1 and Factum 2 differ, repetition in performance is inherently not exactly the same. The body inserts itself.

This fact produces two results:

1. the eye habituates to the repeated movement, a sense of security is developed
2. differences and development are made more apparent in contrast to the sameness; interest is renewed

I aim to find the place where the body must insert itself.
Pain, fatigue, and stamina all play a role.
I want to explore the inanity that results from an action that is repeated incessantly.

What happens when a movement, that we know serves no purpose other than destruction, continues to repeat itself?

When must we stop?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rothko: No. 14, 1960

Tracing bloodlines
begins with an exhale
the bleeding of toxic on calm
the calming of orange on sea
the seeping of water
through me.

what is clear in memory
blurs at the edges
what is silent in thought
echoes dissonant in action

every exhale in life is followed
by an inhale
every exhale in death is
followed by silence.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

inspirations: Doug Varone

In response to Chapters from a Broken Novel, performed at the Joyce Theater, March 20, 2011, 8pm.

-the beauty of individual variations within a unison part of a dance
-audible breath as a signature of work
-paradox of slow movement during a fast tempo song and vice versa
-the insinuation of impending doom garnered from continuous movement
-the allowance of sound, per chance.

***The bravery of sticking with a certain idea, motif, notion, for much, much, much, longer than expected. Allowing the work to develop itself because it must, rather than because the choreographer shies away from exploring an idea to its infinite limit.

Friday, March 18, 2011

in the aftermath

soldier victim
perpetrator perpetrator
amputated gone from birth
capability disability

eternal youtheternal dependence

i wake in the wake of air passing through me
possessed by the phantom of my grandfather's inhale
on a night when mist weighed more than corpses
and footfalls ran faster than blood.

i wake in the parting of clouds by sound
the storming of houses by wind
lick-washed clean
and warmed in a blanket of asphyxiation

i wake in the calm surrender of crops at my feet
falling witness to life,
evanescent in the liminal silence

where no bomb has fallen.

relief gone to seed in my pores.

rehearsal 3: washing

Investigated the futility of washing with contaminated water.
The paradox inherent in trying to cleanse yourself in
the very material you are trying to rid yourself of.
How to purge a chemical that is
invisible, odorless, and tasteless?
How to live with a disease dormant in you
that doesn't die with your last breath
but instead is exacerbated in the birth of your child--
and theirs--
and theirs--

I saw a documentary short recently where the narrator said that the only way for a woman to get rid of her dioxin levels, because it is a lipophilic chemical, is to pass it on to her child.
I don't know for sure if this is true,
but if so, the moral implications of giving birth to a child
just became much more complicated.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

rehearsal two.

Was choreographing at Chez Bushwick and was
influenced by the ceiling fans
and the notion of how soldiers will have flashbacks
of helicopters due to PTSD in the presence of fans.

I then began ruminating about the ambivalent nature
of helicopters
as a signifier of both
salvation and
and decay.

As helicopters became the new face of calvary units
they were both the carriers of c-rations
and the undertakers of corpses.

This ambivalence is examined in a film I saw at the MOMA
by Dinh Q Le
about how a family that used to be sprayed with defoliants
are now in the business of making helicopters
as their foray into the technologically driven world.

Thus, I began investigating the
serene, calm, and quiet-
the relief and the awe associated with the first
glimpses of a helicopter over the horizon;
this is manifested in a gestural series
of that progression
from awe to...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dance Movement Therapy at Maimonides

Last Thursday, I observed and participated in a Dance Movement Therapy session at Maimonides Hospital in south Brooklyn under the guidance of Patricia Capello, and her Pratt intern, Lisa. It was a 50 minute session in the in-patient unit of the Psychiatric wing. Capello believes in performing the session in a public space so that patients can decide when to join or remove themselves with their own volition. This small choice helps to build a patient's self efficacy, as well as sense of control and safety in the process. Because the unit is a short-stay facility, the group members change each session, and it is important that each session is a complete experience, which is rare for most DMT groups.

It was important for me to view first hand the DMT process, after researching it peripherally as an undergraduate, and taking a short weekend workshop with David Alan Harris. While the session proceeded, more or less, as I expected it would, I was still impressed by my own corporeal experience of the session and the sense of group development I felt during the short 50 minutes.

Capello outlines 5 main sections of the session:
1. warm up: welcome into space, safety
2. release: build energy of the group, explore space, interact with one another
3. theme: explore main ideas that evolve
4. centering: prepare for ending of session, grounding
5. closure: say goodbye, terminate and reflect on session

The use of TOUCH as a tool of connection was particularly effective in developing relationships with the patients.

Most strikingly, I remember a patient, M, whose eyes lit up after the dance therapist adapted a movement he was doing and allowed that movement to be the one that the group shared. For a man who otherwise smiled little, and made little eye contact, it was evident that the appropriation of his movement for the group's experience was a huge boost in his sense of efficacy and confidence.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Helicopter-- awe, relief, fear, resent.

gestural series:
circling the ear
tracing down the throat
wrist circle at heart
umbilical cord

in circles
parallel to the floor
held in the air

"How the sound of the gunshot arrives ten years later"

panty hose
a bible.

ammunition rounds

Trudging through the sludge

Inhaling the shit

Tasting the crust of the earth in your nasal passages

Stagnancy of a rice paddy

How it is affirming when you die in a river of shit


Shit to begin with reaffirmed by experiencing it.




Depending on which side of the coin you’re on

Heads or tails

Great for you that your luckiness is their unluckiness

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Met with Ann Nguyen for coffee the other day in NYC.
She is a college student whose high school senior project named Make Agent Orange History inspired an organization by the same name. So far, it's the most comprehensive (and most legible) website about this topic that I've been able to find.

Go to for more background information, resources, and future plans regarding Agent Orange.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I have an admission to make:

This project scares me.
As I read stories of war, disability, history
I become inundated in the images
I have both seen
and created for myself in my mind
As Tim O'brien admits
the truth becomes skewed when viewed through the convex mirror of storytelling.
It is part truth and part story.
Part creation.

As an artist creating a work
I have not the tools that a therapist possesses
and as such
I am partially afraid that I will, too,
inherit a war and a disability I have not lived
or owned.
That was partially my intention.
To begin to know
To cope
To recover.

That does not mean it still doesn't scare me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

ashes to ashes, dust to DUST.

Went to see Dust performed by the Paul Taylor Dance Company on Saturday night at New York City Center. One of the dancers who I am collaborating with suggested it because there is a section of the dance where a dancer performs an "amputee" solo where her left arm is held to her chest.

The dance was...beautiful.
It was narrative. It was illustrative.
It told the story of a flock of organisms with some sort of un-ability
The malady shifted and morphed as the sections progressed: a broken arm, blindness.
It was synchronous with the harpsichord/clavichord (?) instrumentation in the background.

But like any novice creative writer will relay, a story is better shown, not told.
The movement echoed the swells of emotion in the music to tell the story of burden. At one point, a dancer was tossed like a knapsack (or a koala?) between other dancers emphasizing the weight and burden that propagated through the community. However, despite this use of weight to represent restraint, the entire piece lacked any genuine struggle!

The dancers were complete, whole, able-body dancers. In fact, they were hyper-anthropomophic-ballet-aesthetic-ideal bodies (with long torsos), that were too beautiful to communicate any felt sense of struggle, restraint, or pain. I was ultimately unable to suspend my disbelief long enough to extract any sense of sympathy or empathy even, for the dancers who were pretending to be otherwise affected. Moreover, the dance ends with a tableau that suggests the evolutionary development of the afflicted man, from a woman who crawls without the use of legs to a woman who stands, upright, while expanding her arms like the wings of a crane.

Forgive me, because though I acknowledge the beauty in a stage that is side lit by a single column of light on stage right, and the constructed shadows that reflect the haunting of our other selves, I simply did not see the light at the end of the tunnel, because there was no struggle to begin with.

Perhaps I am a dancer/choreographer with a masochistic dimension who longs for effort and struggle to be exhibited voyeuristically on stage. This is probably true. I am, however, not interested in playing pretend gimp, and alluding to any false hope that a person born without an arm can suddenly become an erect emaciated ballet dancer. Mostly, I find the notion that a community of disabled bodies should somehow aim to assimilate into abled body life absurd, offensive even--it assumes that the construct of abled/disabled is one worth recognizing in the first place.

Elements I did take away:
  • weight as indicative of burden
  • notion of blindness not just congenitally but as hysterical blindness as it relates to Khmer Rouge and PTSD
  • the form of an amputated arm--what does it look like? congenital or accident?
  • contraction with leg hold--limp.
  • shadows of us that are bigger than ourselves (literally and metaphorically)
  • people who create the context--used as space holders in defining relationship and space between dancers
I also saw Cloven Kingdom and Three Dubious Memories. They were both fine.

*NOTE: I still find myself struggling with the notion of disability and using that particular word to describe the phenomenon that I am interested in. It seems detached, colonistic, and mostly it just feels wrong between my lips. To be continued...explored...problematized...I suppose.

Friday, February 18, 2011

initial phrase.

Here are some videos from my first attempt to mobilize and visualize aesthetic ideas that I was otherwise theorizing about.

concepts for constructed improv:
dead weight
tracing-- tracing in sand, on body, on partner's body
sequential tension/release in certain parts of body: fingers, elbow, arm

Then we learned this phrase:

The phrase was initially inspired by a feeling of dead weight that I felt in my right arm after my ganglion cyst surgery. The story goes: my arm was still under the effects of anesthesia but the rest of my body was coherent--as I was sitting in the recovery room, I began to notice my right arm slip from the pillow on which it was resting. I reacted how I normally would; somewhere in my motor cortex, a sequence of action potentials told my arm to pick itself up, except it was completely immobile. My left arm came to the rescue. Now, at this point, while others may have reacted in panic or discomfort, my only thought was, I need to choreograph before this sh*t wears off!

And thus:

We then paired off and continued to improvise responses to each other in the negative space around partners who were performing the phrase. There were no set directions for the improvisation other than work around/with/under/over your partner. However,

3 relationship dynamics emerged:
Rafael--Sasha: Symbiotic
Morgana as the caretaker/sympathetic voice for Corinna's affliction
Dana--Robert: Antagonistic

Finally, I began to conceptualize the piece in space keeping with the same aesthetic impulses of dead weight and restraint. This is the beginning of that exploration.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


let me just be clear:

the goal of this project is to:
investigate the intergenerational effects of the trauma of war as an embodied epidemic.

the body remembers.

agent orange and VN are a prime case study:

it is an example, sadly not an anomaly.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The things they carried

They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bone, simple grunts, soldiering with their legs, toiling up the hills and down into the paddies and across the rivers and up again and down, just humping, one step and then the next and then another, but no volition, no will, because it was automatic, it was anatomy, and the war was entirely a matter of posture and carriage, the hump was everything, a kind of inertia, a kind of emptiness, a dullness of desire and intellect and conscience and hope and human sensibility.

They shared the weight of memory.

-Tim O'brien

The things they carried:


The disabled body,
is too much in some places,
not enough in others.
Heads too large to know.
Limbs too short to move.
We would have had to stand on equal ground
to begin with
if we were to reallocate resources
and balance this equation
But 2 heads and no limbs
don't equal a whole
A hole in a heart
traced in a bloodline
giving breath to a memory I have not lived
and body to a soul I have not inherited.

The body is marked.
Stained in growth
and grown in soil
soiled in sheets
and cheated in game
played in war
and won in theory.

The politics of "disability" on stage

There is no lack of precedent when it comes to the exhibition of disabled bodies on stage.

We have all seen the Youtube phenomenon of Chinese amputee dancers who perform a ballet. Some titles of the video are more successful than others in their attempt at political correctness.
This video chose "She without arm, he without leg--ballet--hand in hand."

While the spectacle of the above video is undeniable, other dance companies have attempted to approach disability and dance in a more collaborative manner. Companies such as AXIS Dance company and The GIMP Project present "abled" bodies and "disabled" bodies side by side in choreography. Heidi Latsky, artistic director and choreographer of GIMP, speaks to highlighting the specific idiosyncrasies and unique elements of each dancer body despite its anatomy. Each dancer is asked to capitalize on the shape of their body, whatever it may be. There is no judgment surrounding a body that is too much in some places and too little in others.

There is a virtuosity to the performance that allows for bodies that were previously seen as DISabled to be viewed as specifically MORE abled on stage. Catherine Long, of GIMP, cites her ability to reclaim a sense of power when it comes to others' gaze upon her body: "I'm inviting people to look at me, and I'm controlling the looking, whereas when I'm in the street I'm not inviting people to look at me, but they do anyway."

The AXIS Dance Company, in this clip choreographed by contemporary icon Alex Ketley, serves a similar purpose as persons in wheelchairs dance alongside dancers not in wheelchairs.

These companies have long been commended (as seen in the NYTimes clip) for redefining the audience's notion of a "dancer". The work not only challenges the viewer's conception of the abilities of a disabled person, but I imagine that it also challenges the person's own conception of his/her own self-efficacy.

However, while these performances have the power to revolutionize concepts of beauty, creativity, and performance as it relates to disabled bodies--there has also been a dialectic surrounding the exploitation of disabled bodies in performance. Latsky, herself, stems from a background with Bill T Jones who Arlene Croce of The New Yorker so notoriously deemed a creator of "victim art" that was "beyond criticism" because of its portrayal of sick bodies on stage. While I will not enter into the politic of the exotified "different" body as it relates to the colonizing gaze (at this juncture), I will re-articulate the unease I feel around the separation of disabled performer and audience which emphasizes the spectacle of the disabled body, as well as the juxtaposition of "abled" (read: normal, normative?) body dancer alongside the "dis-abled" body dancer.

Ultimately, all of these examples are a superfluous way of explaining my hesitancy and unease around working with disabled bodies in a performance context. I simply am untrained and unprepared to do so at this point. Moreover, while the movement toward disabled persons' rights has gained ground in the U.S., there is not necessarily an equivalent advocacy for disabled persons in Vietnam. There simply is no disability culture. But before the U.S. sits on its laurels, I will reiterate that there is still a bifurcation between what is deemed "normal" and what is deemed "other," and the exhibition of such dichotomies are not limited to physical disabilities as they are commonly understood.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


This is a record.
This is the beginning of a project that will address a specific example of a larger occurrence.
It is one iteration of an ongoing cycle.
It is defined by dichotomies held as constructed truths:



I aim, as many performance artists and theorists do, to blur these seemingly obdurate bifurcations, and explore, rather, the liminal space that exists in, out, around, under, and above this boundaries. While I am aware that many before me have paved the way in exploring these ideas, I hope to use movement, my first language, to articulate the tensions--and release; the relations in space--and dimension; the moments of stillness.

This is a record of a beginning, the mobilization of movement.

Topics addressed:

Dance Movement Therapy
Kinesthetic empathy
Notions of "retribution" for war
Transgenerational effects of war
Transgenerational trauma

Aesthetic concepts:
negative space
> How does one's relation to something change after it is no longer physically present?

1. anesthetize
phrase using large arm circles,
minimized to certain body parts,
anesthetizing certain parts at a time
shoulder blade, upper arm, elbow, wrist, ongles

2. crawling
pushing/falling from different parts in the body


David Alan Harris
DMT work with PTSD child soldiers in Sierra Leone

Trauma and Recovery
Judith Berman

Body in Pain
Elaine Scarry

Aspen Institute
Walter Isaacson

Of Performance and the Persistent Temporality of Trauma: Memory, Art, and Visions
Boresth Ly