The choreographer’s intention doesn't communicate in any obvious, or significant way.

By: Nov. 15, 2023

Review: RE:BIRTH, VAN HUYNH COMPANY, The Place It seems unfathomable that a dance company has been based in London for 15 years and I've never seen their work before. However, such is the case with the Van Huynh Company who presented Re:birth (2022) at The Place on November 14.

The work looks at the childhood refugee experience of the choreographer, and company's director Dam Van Huynh. Born in Vietnam, his family fled to the United States after the war, and Re:birth aims to unpick all that that type of episode could encapsulate for an individual.

And I'll be honest from the outset - the evening didn't work for me, and additionally, the piece's non-literal nature also means that the choreographer’s intention doesn't communicate in an obvious, or significant way.

Some work can be more concerned with being profound, than actually offering anything comprehensible, and I'm afraid that's what Re:birth said to me.

The piece opens with Elaine Mitchener performing “Vocal Improvisations” - words are initially distinguishable, but the execution soon evolves into random, almost hysterical warbling. The skill can't be denied though, as her live performance sounds like the most genuine, mashup of an audio motherboard I've ever come across.

The majority of the work that follows is in silence, which makes the limited movement vocabulary even more difficult to appreciate.

Van Huynh's website mentions his development of a “methodology of torso division” which I think I spotted about three quarters into the piece, but in reality it's just the pelvis being gyrated with gusto whilst staring intently at the audience.

Elsewhere the movement language is a collection of release, falling, convulsing, wild running and partnering that verges on puppetry. Weakened, passive bodies manipulated by masters.

A lot of the physicality verges on the violent, and often people assume this tactic is enough for their work to be taken seriously. I categorically disagree, and find the approach initially tiresome, and then just uncomfortable to watch. We also get some nudity thrown into the mix, as well as headstands: at times, simultaneously.

The work, as confirmed, isn't literal in manner, but one can distil suggestions of the refugee experience. I've never been in such a situation, but can imagine the discomfort, torment and victimisation of the predicament, and Van Huynh’s creativity absolutely embodies this. However, it starts to lose its poignancy because the agenda is relentless.

The seven performers unquestionably commit to Van Huynh’s physical demands and the work's continuously foreboding atmosphere, but even this can't forge a connection between my role as observer, and the piece's desire to be seriously considered.

Re:birth was performed at The Place on November 14.

Photo credit: Brett Lockwood.

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