Review: Quang Kien Van - Lunar Shadows - Rich Mix
Performance reviewed: Sunday 4 December
Personal identity is an elusive, tricky, ever-evolving attribute. The ‘me’ of your early twenties will almost certainly have a different body, different opinions and a different value system to the ‘me’ of your late forties. The narrative of your life, even if only a footnote in a grander history, will sculpt your identity in surprising ways.
Quang Kien Van’s Lunar Shadows, a spirited attempt to encapsulate the vastness and turbulent evolution of a personal identity – to even match the grandness of the word ‘identity’ – does not, unfortunately, achieve much more than confusion.
Lunar Shadows eschews conventional narrative, beginning in outer space before converging on a psychiatric hospital in the Las Vegas desert. The link between the two settings is never made explicit. Lunar Shadows is described as an ‘unruly’ marriage of two earlier short pieces, Lunar Orbits and Patient 319, and though there is doubtless some broad perspective in the mind of the choreographer than sees both these pieces as two joined points on the same horizon, the audience is never party to the view.
The Lunar Orbits section of Lunar Shadows is a ghostly, languid dance of alien limbs in empty space, which sees a trio of dancers – Laura Lorenzi, Daniel Phung and Rachele Rapisardi – explore the limits of their bodies to a suitably galactic original score by Philip Feeney. Thought not without a certain cold attractiveness, this section has the sort of super-serious sense of its own artistry that is irresistibly similar to the scene in American Beauty, where Ricky shows Jane a video of a plastic bag ‘dancing’ with him – and indeed has a fair bit of similarity to this scene in terms of energy and movement. The dancers do a creditable job, and Rapisardi is a particularly striking spectre of the void, but it overall fails to impress.
The Patient 319 section is appended abruptly onto the space dance. Lorenzi, Phung and Rapisardi change from plain khaki into neon metallic disco wear, and the audience are suddenly facing what looks like a group of nu-rave circus clowns. (Costume designer Ruta Irbite must have had a great deal of fun with this section.) What follows is less anarchic and more simply puzzling.
A voiceover tells the story of Patient 319, who was born in Saigon in 1976 and, along with his parents, two distant cousins and four hundred or so other strangers, escaped Vietnam for England (specifically, Peckham, South East London) as one of the Vietnamese boat people. The story picks up again thirty years later, as Patient 319 – real name unknown – is found in a state of religious ecstasy on the floorboard’s of Nevada’s Church of Christ, before being taken to a psychiatric hospital. The voiceover continues to explore the possibilities of Patient 319’s true identity.
For the duration of the voiceover, and in the breaks between the spoken narrative, Quang, Lorenzi, Phung and Rapisardi perform a series of motif-like pieces that are startling only in their blandness. A few images do stand out: Lorenzi leads a fresh and lively disco duel, firstly with Phung and then with Quang; Lorenzi piles cardboard boxes full of psychiatric notes in front of a seated Quang, symbolising a bureaucratic obliteration of the individual, later smashed to pieces by Lorenzi with a baseball bat and a screaming fury. Unlike the opening section, the story of Patient 319 and the physical stories it generates is quite often funny, suggesting that Quang has a promisingly broad range. But as a whole feels messy and scraggly.
In an interview with Seeing Dance, Quang describes the unusual narrative of Lunar Shadows as being ‘more in the style of poetry rather than prose’. It is clear that the occasionally surprising and thought-provoking images that emerge from the general dance palaver have the lyrically insistent, syntactically unconventional quality of poetry, but their attachment to the straight prose of the voiceover makes the Patient 319 section feel disjointed. Quang has bold ideas and an eye for curious, provocative details, but it is frustratingly as if Lunar Shadows is not yet finished, and that its true potential can only be realised after quite a lot of dead matter has been pumiced away.
Ka Bradley is a writer and editor based in London. Her reviews have appeared in Exeunt, The Stage and londondance.com. Her fiction has appeared in Granta, Catapult, The Offing, Minor Literature[s] and Somesuch Stories.