Ballet has European origins, but choreographer Thang Dao has used it to learn more about his Vietnamese heritage. This weekend Ballet Austin's apprentice company Ballet Austin II premieres Dao's 'Quiet Imprint.' The 40-minute ballet explores life in Vietnam in the 1970s based on interviews Dao (who immigrated from Vietnam in 1984) conducted with his parents and Vietnamese Americans living in Central Texas.
Austin American-Statesman: What did you learn about your parents' generation through working on this piece?
Thang Dao: My parents were born in '49 and '51. When I was putting the timeline together, I realized my parents never lived in peace. First there was the French occupation, and then the Japanese and then the Americans. My parents were always running from war.
How did you make dance from the ideas in Vietnamese composer Trinh Cong Son's music (sung by Khanh Ly) and from the stories you heard?
One of the songs is about the Hue Massacre, a tragedy that happened when they (North Vietnam) bombed the town Hue. I'm from that province. In interviews people talked about walking around after bombings - seeing dead bodies, children and women. I didn't make a literal recreation, but I thought about the pedestrian movements people described.
Why did you want to tell these stories through ballet?
I wanted to invite more of the Vietnamese community into the ballet world. No one introduced me to ballet, and when I did get involved with ballet, I saw a whole different light. I want my parents to understand the beauty of ballet.
These stories have such personal resonance for you. How did you convey the stories, the period, the place to dancers?
All of the people I interviewed asked if I had Vietnamese dancers. I asked the dancers to read about the music, to learn about the Vietnam War - expand their historical knowledge. It's not like it's a Vietnamese work, so I have to have Vietnamese dancers. Here they are all trained so they have the technical facilities I know will allow them to communicate. If there were Vietnamese dancers who were trained well, that would be a plus, not a necessity.
How did you become involved in ballet?
In an audition for a performing arts high school in L.A. They said, 'Do first position.' I said, 'What's first position?' I didn't know anything. Then they said, 'Improvise.' I didn't know what that meant. Then they told me to just pretend I was a monkey playing volleyball and move around. I was so embarrassed, but then I got sooooo into it. I got into the school.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Austin Ventures Studio Theater, Ballet Austin Butler Dance Education Center, 501 W. Third St.
Info: 476-2163, www.balletaustin.org