College of Alameda students perform with Nguyen Dance Company
By Emily Tenorio Molina
April 26, 2023
The Au Co Vietnamese Cultural Center presented its 10th annual performance of “Thi Ca & Sử Việt,” or “Vietnamese Art and History Show,” at the San Francisco Legion of Honor on March 19. Several Bay Area performers came together in cultural appreciation at the show, including College of Alameda (CoA) professor Danny Nguyen, and his troupe, the Nguyen Dance Company, composed of students from the college.
This year’s show, themed “Motherland,” showcased the theme of motherhood and its significance in Vietnamese culture. The Executive Director of the program, Hang Le To, addressed the importance of using dance and music “to show Our Mothers’ many roles during peacetime and wartime.”
The Su Viet Zithers Ensemble, a group of students and teachers from the Vietnamese Cultural Center, opened the event with their piece, “The Petrified Mother Statue Longing for Her Husband,” a musical performance narrating the distress and separations of war-torn families. Genre-blending group Vân Án Vō & The Blood Moon Orchestra performed a wonderful melody with ancestral instruments like the zither and implemented contemporary instruments such as the electric piano.
The Asian Improv Nation Special Edition Ensemble performed “Folk Mother,” telling the story of a mother who nurtures her young son until war forces their separation, an agonizing experience for the mother. A story repeated throughout the history of war in the country.
The Nguyen Dance Company performed in the second act of the show. Their first piece “Let’s All Hope” expressed the pain of losing mothers and loved ones to COVID-19. “A Mother’s Heart,” the second piece, encapsulated the idea of unconditional maternal love. Both pieces used dance as a form of honoring mothers whose love still keeps their remembrance alive despite their passing.
To conclude the show, audience members sang along in Vietnamese with all of the performers to the beloved patriotic song “Vietnam: The Proud Homeland.” The event ended with a loud round of applause for all of the performers of the evening.
The Nguyen Dance Company
Storytelling through dance is a beautiful experience for both performers and audience.
Nguyen has been teaching students the art of storytelling through dance for over a decade, helping them perform across the Bay in various cultural events.
Students from various backgrounds and levels of dancing experiences came to the stage to perform the heartwarming pieces at the insightful cultural event. One of Nguyen’s students, Tracey Enskip, expressed her gratitude for the exposure of performing at notable events and the opportunity to perform at a renowned place like the Legion of Honor.
“I couldn’t be more thankful to have Danny to help me check that off my bucket list at 33, to be performing now at the Legion of Honor,” Enskip said.
Before studying with Nguyen, Enskip had performed improvisational street dancing with artists in Oakland. Now through this course, she’s able to develop her technique in an open space, and get exposure to multicultural themes and styles, such as Balinese fan dancing.
“I’m getting a full global education when it comes to dance,” Enskip explained.
Nguyen teaches students that every dance has a message, whether it be cultural context or historical meaning.
Sandra Vaugh, a student in Nguyen’s course and an English instructor at CoA who has been dancing under Nguyen for many years, has learned about the cultural context behind many of the dance routines. She spoke about the transformation of “Let’s All Hope,” which the troupe began practicing before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So a lot of the times before this dance, it had to do with the people escaping Vietnam, and trying to come for a better life somewhere,” Vaugh explained.
To honor COVID-19 victims in “Let’s All Hope,” Nguyen incorporated an excerpt from his piece “The Bench,” a dance about death that was originally a tribute to the victims of 9/11.
“So he’s changed it and it has a lot to do with COVID,” Vaugh continued. “It’s not the same dance as it used to be. But it’s this idea, you know, of people facing great hardship, and the hardships that they face and then also helping each other.”
In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islanders Month, the Nguyen Dance Company will perform on May 3 at San Francisco City Hall Herbst Theater for the Asian Pacific American Heritage Awards.
Video excerpts from the Vietnamese Art and History Show:
Video by Emily Tenorio Molina