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