|HBSO Ballet’s dancers rehearse for contemporary dance show Café Saigon - Photo: Courtesy of HBSO
Nine dancers from the HBSO Ballet, four men and five women, make up the cast. The work’s location is a Saigon coffee-shop fifty and more years ago.
This dance show isn’t one of the finest HBSO has to offer, but it does have aspects that will be of interest to well-informed dance enthusiasts.
The music is very varied. It includes some Vietnamese ethnic minority items, plus two songs from the 1960s US singer-songwriter Joan Baez, Plaisir d’Amour and Donna Donna . Baez was a close collaborator with Bob Dylan and a vigorous opponent of the American involvement in the war in Vietnam.
Gotra’s Joost Vrouenraets said at the time of the original production that Vietnam had always fought for its independence, and it had never lost it.
There are also German cabaret songs, including Bella, Bella Marie, and some attractive accordion music from Fabian Beghin and Didier Laloy. Louis Armstrong’s 1967 song What a wonderful world also features.
The dancers perform various innovative dance movements, and even sing on occasion. The performance lasts 75 minutes and is far from realistic. Girls fall from tables and are caught by boys, a flickering light suggests hidden menace, and the nine dancers sometimes simply run round the stage to music from the 1950s and 60s.
Choreographer Nguyen Phuc Hai was responsible for the set design.
The action begins with a one-man mime gesturing in front of the curtain to a Vietnamese narrative. When the curtain rises we see four couples sitting at tables, with the female narrator now in view.
Slow motion is common, as are affectionate stares that only half-conceal an aggression that maybe lies behind them. Tables and chairs are carried over the dancers’ heads, jumped from and, in the case of the chairs, danced with as if they were dancing partners.
At one point we hear an English narrative about falling in love, concluding “In madness lies sanity”. This appears on YouTube under the title Falling Into Love and is dedicated to the interpreter of Eastern philosophy for Westerners in the 1960s, Alan Watts.
Vrouenraets worked with the Vietnamese dancer and choreographer Nguyen Phuc Hung over 10 years ago in the Netherlands. One of the fruits of this collaboration was the arrival of Vrouenraets, together with his colleague Maite Guerin, in Saigon last June to create this work.
Maite Guerin was also artistic director of a program called Care to Dance? aimed at incorporating people suffering from Parkinson’s disease and encouraging them to dance.
Tickets for Café Saigon are from VND650,000 to VND200,000, with a special price of VND80,000 for students. The performance begins at 8 p.m.