January 20, 2022
Bleu Néon, a quest for identity
I am sometimes lucky enough to witness the preliminary phases of a performance or to engage in dialogue with artists whose projects are still in progress.
This year, in order to shed light on the evolving processes of the artists taking part in the 2021-2022 edition of FTA Respirations, I’d like to take you along with me to their rehearsal spaces and share with you my experience as a spectator within these creative workshops.
On December 9, Kim-Sanh Châu staged a public end-of-residency performance at the Maison de la culture Marie-Uguay, on Monk Boulevard. The dancer and choreographer of French and Vietnamese heritage had had the opportunity to spend the week there along with her crew to work on her upcoming project, Bleu Néon.
This was my first time setting foot in the small venue, with its Italian-style stage, in Ville-Émard. I was pleased to note, upon arriving, that a rather large audience had gathered, comprised of both the artist’s acquaintances and curious bystanders. Production manager Louise Michel Jackson warmly ushered us in, while Kim-Sanh Châu invited us to come closer to the stage to foster a more intimate setting. There were even cushions on the floor for us to sit on.
The performance begins with Vietnamese rap. Sitting on a footstool, mic in hand, Kim-Sanh Châu performs several tracks by the rapper JONAIR, who joins her on stage. Raised in France, the Montreal-based choreographer doesn’t speak fluent Vietnamese, though she is making progress in mastering the language. Thanks to FTA Respirations, she was able to work with a mentor, Vietnamese-Canadian rapper Lil Waterboi, to hone her pronunciation skills and flow, as part of her creative residency.
Fuelled with the powerful energy of rap music, she then abandons her footstool and travels across the stage in a squatting position. Seldom adopted in the West, this posture can at first seem uncomfortable, but it is actually extremely stable. Rooted in this way, Kim-Sanh Châu slowly and pensively grazes the floor. Her movements are guided by synesthesia, a sensory ability to create unexpected associations—each coloured stage light sparks a different motion, gesture, or intention. The installation created by lighting designer Jon Cleveland is reminiscent of the incandescent aesthetic of South Asian cities like Saigon, where the different light fixtures were in fact sourced.
The sound environment created by Laotian artist Hazy Montagne Mystique/Chittakone Baccam, a long-time collaborator of Kim-Sanh Châu, is interspersed with voice recordings featuring Châu and one of her female Vietnamese friends, as they conjure real and imagined memories of a faraway—and at times imagined—Vietnam. Bleu Néon recounts the artist’s quest for identity. While reclaiming her heritage, she investigates her own body memory to unearth forgotten landscapes and dormant knowledge.
If you are as intrigued as I am by where Kim-Sanh Châu’s exploration will take her, don’t miss Bleu Néon at MAI – Montréal Arts Interculturels from April 28 to April 30, 2022.
Kim-Sanh Châu is a Vietnamese-French contemporary dance artist, based in Tio’tia:ke/Montreal. She is the artistic and general co-director of Studio 303 and an associate artist at Equivoc’. Her work has been featured at MAI, l’Arsenal, Tangente, SIDance (in Korea) and Krossing-Over (in Vietnam), among other venues.