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Joseph Mailander
Performance Reviews
UCLA Live's Royce Hall
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA

Ea Sola's Drought and Rain Vol. 2

by Joseph Mailander
January 26, 2008
UCLA Live's Royce Hall
340 Royce Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90095
The pair of projected eyes that commence choreographer Ea Sola's Drought and Rain Vol. 2 peer up, down, across the stage, nervously, suddenly. The eyes are a cue for the audience: we too are meant to peer up, down, across, to inquire.

Like many dance and non-dance elements of Sola's work, the projected eyes at the beginning of Drought 2 commence an inquiry into contemporary consciousness itself. Her reference point is Vietnam—this time, differing from the first Drought and Rain, it is the Vietnam of a later generation, once removed from war—but it is also the state of contemporary consciousness everywhere.

"The person at the border, the administrator, this one I do not understand," Sola told me before the first performance of Drought 2 at UCLA's Royce Hall on January 25, part of UCLA Live's exceptional performing arts series. "The person at the border of one culture, this is the one I understand. I feel the difference, but not the border."

The dancers, known as Company Ea Sola and drawn from the Vietnam National Opera Ballet, then come onto the stage in various stages of toe elevation—the degree of height offering an initial clue to their individual histories. They tiptoe sideways onto stage, asymmetrically, their bodies stretched and willfully drawn as haggard as possible, sometimes deliberately favoring one side or another, as skeletons pulled from their heads might. They soon spin into dance, extending an open hand in pantomime, a hand that seeks rain from the sky. They maintain a rhythmic, collective asymmetry through almost all the work as they cavort in clusters of two and three, have loves and failed loves, hungers and fears, and generally relate their biographies as ballet dancers, Vietnamese dancers, and human dancers in our fractured contemporary world.

In a turn that will ironically remind many in the audience of a memorable moment in A Chorus Line—a million miles away, but another work about dancers examining their own and each other's consciousnesses—the dancers of Drought 2 hold portraits up to their heads. But these aren't mug shots of the dancers themselves, they're head shots of people from all over the globe. Here, the dancers set them at the foot of the stage and in a very imaginative five minute sequence dance in files, running and leaping and drawing from forms of movement as divergent as classical ballet and pantomime to convey biographical information relevant to their own lives and also the lives of those in the photographs.

"In dance, there is always a partner in the thinking," Sola says, "Even dancing alone." And the females in the production often find a partner in a collective isolation: as their consciousnesses expand, they hang their heads more frequently in such a way as to shroud their faces by their hair; very often in the second half of the piece we can't see their faces at all. This minoritizing of the female dancers derives both from the stories of their romantic lives and the story of living in the aftermath of war; one knocks on a man's back, seeking entry, but he runs off with another; another hangs her head, almost shamefully, after her most brilliant ballerina whirl; etc. The minoritizing spreads: a quick mumming passage accomplishes something similar, as the masks usher in an episode less of disguise but emphasizing isolation and distance and confusion, with the men wearing them as well. There is always a partner, and often that partner is an oppressor.

American audiences in particular recognize the sequence towards the end of the work commencing with the re-enactment of one of the most famous photographic images of the Vietnam War: Eddie Adams' Pulitizer Prize winning photo of a man being executed. A frenzy of mimed killing breaks out among the dancers, with finger-guns pointing at heads, bodies rolling on the floor, picking themselves up and shooting who has shot them. This is ultimately what the young dancers know of the war that predates them in their homeland; it was violent, everyone was touched, it was mad, it was arbitrary. But finally, there are suicides a la the Russian roulette sequences in the film The Deer Hunter; the war has degenerated, dehumanized into Hollywood storytelling, which has become one of the key narratives by which the war is known to the younger generation.

"Americans can watch my work with something that they do not watch with in France," Ea Sola says of Drought and Rain Vol. II. And the work is indeed exhilarating for American audiences; highly contemporary and highly disciplined, very individual and very collective, spasmodic and refined, it echoes a part of history that both Americans and Vietnamese alike would rather not revisit but have no choice confronting, Sola brings extraordinary imagination and new thinking to a long-challenging part of so many personal and collective histories.

Ea Sola's Drought and Rain Vol. 2, which has enjoyed many performances since its debut in 2005, is a work for 12 dancers, one singer and five musicians. Music composed by Nguyen Xuan Son. It runs slightly over sixty minutes, In California, it will be performed at Campbell Hall at UC Santa Barbara on January 30, At the University Theater at UC Riverside on February 1, and in San Francisco at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on February 6-7, 2008.
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