Quiet Imprint Interactive
Ballet Austin II presents Quiet Imprint, New York choreographer Thang Dao's inspiring interpretation of personal narratives from the Central Texas Vietnamese community. Explore the interactive to learn more about the history, artists, and choreography, watch video excerpts, and listen to the striking music.
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Love stories between a man and woman (often of royal parentage) enjoy narrative hegemony in ballet. But Ballet Austin and choreographer Thang Dao proved ballet can be (and should be) a tool for telling other stories, too.
Ballet Austin II, Ballet Austin’s apprentice company, premiered Dao’s “Quiet Imprint” this weekend at Ballet Austin’s AustinVentures Studio.
Dao paired contemporary ballet with the smoky, almost bluesy voice of Vietnamese singer Khanh Ly to tell Vietnamese Americans’ stories of growing up in Vietnam during waves of war and violence. The series of vignettes to ten songs, performed live by Ly, hinted at narrative, but more compellingly portrayed a emotional landscape of survival: fierce struggle in the face of sorrow.
Dao crafts an image of a community of undulating bodies of rocking and swaying dancers. A couple swims forward from the group, but just as quickly the group swells to swallow them. No man nor woman ever seems representative of a single character, but the dancers gain identities through relationships. In an early section, a series of women perhaps mourn a lost love. The pairs intertwine their bodies, but never seem to see each other, as though a memory, not an actual man lifts each woman.
In general, the piece’s partnered choreography is strong because Dao imagine partnering as much more than one man lifting one woman. Some of the most interesting partnering features two quartets. In each two men and a woman work together to lift the other man.
The slow rock of Ly’s singing shapes much of the piece’s movement, but one section — really, one movement — stands out as sharply defiant. The cast circles the stage, one at a time interrupting their running fist-pumping, foot-punching jumps.
So much in this ballet is sad, but the dancers seem to refuse to go down under the emotional weight. Similarly, Ballet Austin II’s young dancers face Dao’s choreographic challenges thoughtfully. The dancers explore what it means to give into gravity, often letting their legs lead as their torsos ripple slowly behind.
It’s exciting to see young dancers trying out new ways to move and, equally exciting that Ballet Austin, by commissioning now a fourth from Dao, has made a long-term commitment to an emerging voice.
Clare Croft is an American-Statesman freelance arts critic.