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Vietnamese Culture Night explores expressions of love through an artistic lens

The Vietnamese Student Union is hosting its annual Vietnamese Culture Night tonight at Royce Hall. (Megan Cai/Daily Bruin)

VCN: "The Way We Offer: Những Cách Yêu”

Royce Hall

Feb. 21

7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

By Chau Lu

Feb. 21, 2022 6:24 p.m.

Vietnamese Culture Night is exploring love languages.

Orchestrated by the Vietnamese Student Union, the event adheres to February’s theme of love and will take the stage at Royce Hall on Monday night. The show, titled “The Way We Offer: Những Cách Yêu,” will integrate drama, three dance components and an a cappella performance to showcase Vietnamese traditions and art. As the director of VCN, fourth-year psychology student Gena Huynh said she wrote a majority of the show and coordinated the artistic components to match the vision of her script. She said this year’s rendition of the annual production delves into the different ways love can be expressed and focuses on bridging the gap between generations.

“(The culture night) is a way to bring people together. … No matter how many barriers there are between you and your family, or other people in your life, you bring them to this show,” Huynh said. “It’s your not-so-explicit way of being like, ‘This is who I am.’”

Each year VCN aims to tackle a social issue present in the Vietnamese community, and the forefront of this year’s theme is how the unconventional ways Vietnamese parents show love affect their children’s approach to affection. In addition to reflecting on her own relationships with her parents and partner, Huynh said she talked to her friends, many of whom had the same experiences with parental love as she did. She said this connection inspired her to examine why many Vietnamese parents do not explicitly say “I love you” to their children and convey their love in different ways, such as quietly passing a bowl of cut-up fruit.

[Related: NSU Cultural Night to spotlight Japanese American identity through ‘Seishin’]

The plot of the show, set in 2019, follows the drama performance of a Vietnamese college student, June, and her struggles between her relationship with her girlfriend Ellison, their future and the conflicts it has with her familial obligations, Huynh said. With a variety of artistic mediums and timelines present, she said, each is weaved into the show to illustrate a certain emotion and is used to signify transitions. For instance, the assortment of dance genres are included to honor the different generations and relationships present in the show, she said.

“During a scene between the protagonist’s parents, traditional (dance) comes in to represent the parents’ generation. … And ‘moditional’ (dance) represents the protagonist, June, because it’s a combination of modern and traditional – her parent’s generation, her generation, her conflicts with that,” Huynh said. “Modern dance is a representation of her and Eli because they’re a same-sex couple in the 2010s.”

Traditional dance choreographer and fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student Vivian Do said she choreographed the dance with the theme of love in mind. When choosing the song for the ensemble, she said she consulted her mother and friends to accurately reimagine the relationship between June and her mother that is portrayed in the scene.

With drama, dance and a cappella, students will look at the multitude of ways love can work, specifically looking at parental and queer relationships. (Sarah Teng/Daily Bruin)
With drama, dance and a cappella, students will look at the multitude of ways love can work, specifically looking at parental and queer relationships. (Sarah Teng/Daily Bruin)

Along with synchronizing the movements to match the beats and lyrics of the song, the addition of Vietnamese accessories to the dance adds a fun theatric flair to the overall performance, she said. The traditional dance not only adds a vibrancy to the show but also a sense of nostalgia, she said – it pays homage to traditional Vietnamese arts because it is not a dance that is commonly seen in younger generations.

Huynh said the normalization of same-sex couples is an important underlying topic within the performance and hopes it motivates older generations to accept them. Although the plot follows a lesbian couple, she said the story is not centered around their relationship. She said this decision is meant to highlight that a queer couple can have their own story without solely focusing on their queerness.

“Despite the fact that (June) does have a girlfriend, I really wanted to show non-queer people and the older generation that it is possible to have a show including queer people, and it’s not the focal point,” Huynh said. “We can have our own stories, and that’s that. It doesn’t always have to be a coming-out narrative.”

[Related: UCLA student embraces AAPI heritage through tattoo artistry]

Among the several reallife topics this year’s culture night addresses, VCN lead and first-year biology student Nala Son said her involvement in the show has also allowed her to reconnect with Vietnamese culture. The importance of this night is how it raises the hard conversations between generations, she said, and how that can allow for a deeper understanding of Vietnamese culture and history.

“(The show) opens doors to so many past chapters of our culture and common shared experiences within our lives,” Son said. “It explores what it’s like to grow up from generations of war and the pressures of traditional culture.”

Despite her own artistic vision for the performance, Huynh said she aims to leave the interpretation open to the audience. While the event is centralized around Vietnamese culture, Huynh said it also integrates universal issues that all audiences can relate to. She said she hopes that the audience can find the show relatable, whether it be familial issues or the common fears surrounding relationships.

“I just really want the show to be something for someone,” Huynh said. “If it could be meaningful for someone and they remember it, … then its purpose has been fulfilled because it meant something enough for someone to become a memory.”

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