Why I care about Agent Orange: Exploring the Impact through Dance

 
 

[Editor's Note: Natalia Duong is a Vietnamese-American dancer, choreographer and recent graduate of Stanford University. What follows is her story of why she cares about Agent Orange, as expressed through Project Agent Orange, an effort to raise awareness of the impact of Agent Orange through dance and movement. Project Agent Orange is based in New York City and has performed across New York and New Jersey. The world premiere of a new evening length work will take place in May 2012 in New York. Email Natalia at natalia.duong@gmail.com. This post is part of the limited series "Why I care about Agent Orange."]

I never crawled when I was learning how to locomote: I sat, I waddled and I danced. From birth, I relied on a kinesthetic awareness to communicate. At age three, I changed the landscape of my surroundings by carving my way through the kitchen in tap shoes. From then on, I developed a keen interest in using movement to engage communities, across borders and generations, particularly when the limits of linguistics were present.

As a first generation Vietnamese American, I grew up with stories of war woven into the air of my household. These stories were the ones that would eventually shape my body’s architecture. These stories would skew the lens through which I saw all war.

After visiting a peace village in Vietnam in 2007 and using song and movement to connect with the members of the community, my curiosity about Agent Orange bloomed. I was simultaneously inspired by the brave stories of individuals living with disabilities and greatly disheartened by the inertia towards making the environmental and social changes needed to support a growing community of people who are affected by Agent Orange. The movement towards healing a community hadn’t yet begun.

Consequently, I began Project Agent Orange in 2011. It is a movement collective that investigates the lingering effects of Agent Orange through the use of movement and dance. Together, we use our performances to bring awareness to the lingering effects of the herbicide while educating a broad range of audiences — from art enthusiasts to social activists — about the environmental and humanitarian concerns associated with chemical warfare. The artistic format of the work provides a forum to discuss the complicated questions with people who might not otherwise know about Agent Orange. Our goal is to connect with people on a somatic level so that individuals not only know about the effects of Agent Orange, but also empathize with the issues at play.

As a choreographer, I am interested in using movement to examine how war is inherited through the body. As dioxin has become concentrated in the groundwater and bloodlines of communities, the number of people being affected by the chemical is increasing rather than decreasing. Children are literally — physically — inheriting a war they never lived; living with an injury they never incurred. Project Agent Orange tells a story about the physical embodiment of the proliferation of war. As such, it is a story that is best told through movement, as it is through the bodies of survivors that trauma due to chemical warfare continues to thrive.  Agent Orange is a microcosmic example of a human’s ability to alter life for years beyond any one person’s lifetime.

Natalia speaks to her interest in solving the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Natalia and Project Agent Orange perform a preview of their new evening length work.
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