Soft silk...rough linen
The Seymour Group
(the Vietnamese Australian Contemporary Theatre Company)
soft silk...rough linen
Librettist and Director: Bruce Keller
Composer: Ngoc-Tuan Hoang (in collaboration with The Seymour Group)
Lighting Designer: Joseph Mercurio
never dream of soft silk…
…never despise rough linen
Movement/Scene 1 Water ( The Journey)
Movement/Scene 2 Earth ( The Prison)
Movement/Scene 3 Air (The Debate, the Seperated Lovers)
Movement/Scene 4 Fire (Transformation; life into death)
Vietnamese Singer – Dang Lan (with dan bau)
Vietnamese Singer – Ngoc-Tuan Hoang (with dan sen)
Vietnamese Narrator – Phong Do
Australian Narrator – Bruce Keller
Flute – Christine Draeger
Clarinet - Margery Smith
Violin – Scott Stiles
Cello – Peter Morrison
Piano – Denise Papaluca
Percussion – Timothy Constable
Artistic Director notes
In this debate some facts remain beyond dispute. The first is that while some mass displacements may be preventable, none are voluntary. No one likes or chooses to be a refugee. Being a refugee means more than being an alien. It means living in exile and depending on others for such basic needs as food, clothing and shelter.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1997
Any idle pondering over how history will view the 20th Century usually results in a conclusion that it will be called the “Age of Technology”. We could well be wrong. Modern technology has also brought with it the instruments of mass destruction. Two World Wars plus over 130 armed conflicts since 1945 have seen refugee numbers rise from an estimated 1 million to over 45 million in the last 50 years. We live, without doubt, in the “Age of Diaspora”.
My interest in creating a work about these issues began in the mid 1990’s when Eve Lester, a lawyer working on behalf of the Jesuit Refugee Service, told me of the appalling plight of many individuals who were detained and incarcerated by our own authorities, whose attitude to them has often been less than caring or humane. Australia has, in relative terms, been largely unaffected by the huge exodus of people worldwide. But we have had a long history of xenophobia, an extreme fear of the tidal waves of the ‘yellow peril’, and this has been continued in the last 30 years by the adverse reaction of all Australian governments, both Liberal and Labor, to even minor incursions on our shores by “boat people”.
In a stinging report into the lawfulness and conditions of detention titled Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found that Australia significantly breaches international human rights standards in its handling of refugees. The report went unnoticed by the public. It was strategically tabled on May 12 1998 in the Upper House on the same day that the budget was brought down in the Lower House - a day which was guaranteed to see it entirely swamped by economic concerns both in Parliament and the media.
Our treatment of these people implies an assumption about who, and what, they are. On this issue I would like to quote my friend Eve Lester, who wrote:“A few years ago...I used to receive calls from time to time from a relative of mine who had grave doubts about the work I was doing because, she said, “you could be letting in criminals, you could be letting in Dr Chang’s murderers”. I went into long and detailed discussion about there being no evidence that the people I was representing were criminals and that the likes of Dr Chang’s murderers would probably have much more sophisticated ways of entering the country. They were hardly going to turn up on a small fishing boat.
Later I told the story to my father. His response was much simpler.
“You could be letting in Dr Chang”.
All three of the Vietnamese people in this performance arrived on our shores as refugees. Two of them have written their harrowing stories in this program. They are a testament to the human face of the refugee issue, and I thank them for their courage in being involved in this project with us, an involvement which I know has brought back many memories which they would rather forget.
Composer’s Personal Story
I am a refugee, a boat person. I have no other choice.
In 1977, the political environment in Vietnam was so unbearable that my father and I decided to escape from the country. After many months of meticulous preparation, the result was a tragedy: a dangerously uncontrollable situation forced my father and my younger brother to depart immediately together with their seven friends on a small boat. Many others and I, who were supposed to join the trip, were left behind. After that, I became a non-citizen, then a prisoner. From 1977 to 1983, I escaped by boat twenty-sic times, but none was successful, and I was caught two times. I was labelled "traitor" and had to spend totally five and a half years behind the iron bars of four detention centres and finally the notorious "A.30 re-education camp". In order to survive in the re-education camp, I learned to eat anything that moves and learned to forget reality by letting my mind cling to some meaningful things in life. Musical imagination was my best vitamin, and I could secretly compose many songs during my years in jail. Then in May 1983, I got an opportunity to escape again with a group of young friends on a very small boat. Without any knowledge of navigation, we wandered on the sea for eight days, magically survived a storm, and when we ran out of food, water and petrol, we were luckily rescued by a Philippine fishing ship. The kind-hearted Filipinos offered us food, water and petrol, and showed us the way to the Philippines. I stayed in the Mandaluyong Refugee Centre for seven months, and my father sponsored me to Australia.
I arrived at the Sydney airport on the 22nd of December 1983. After having examining my refugee visa, the immigration officer said to me: "Welcome to Australia".
"Thank you very much", I said.
"Forget the past, and start a new life here", he added.
I thanked him again and walked through the gate. How can I ever forget my past? But, yes, I will start a new life as a baby with my bare hands at the age of twenty-eight. I am too fortunate, am I not? Finally, I am here on this land with some new melodies in my mind, while numerous others are still in the refugee camps, waiting, day by day...
During the past seventeen years in Australia, I have always attempted to combine or melt elements of different musical cultures in many compositions. However, until working with the Seymour Group, I have always completed all aspects of notation and given the score to the performers. Writing for the Seymour Group is a great opportunity for me to realize my cross-cultural aesthetics more interestingly and profoundly. In fact, I did not "write" the music as a conventional Western composer would do, but I was working with the ensemble to "make" the music.
Treating them like a traditional Vietnamese ensemble, I firstly conversed with them on what I wanted to realize. We talked about how the traditional Vietnamese musicians and singers have made music, how the Vietnamese language has worked as a springboard for all the subtle beauties of folk and traditional Vietnamese music, how poetry has been an immense source of musical ideas in Vietnam since the ancient times, and how the concepts of yin/yang and the five elements (ngu hanh) have served as a philosophical and aesthetical foundation for the traditional Vietnamese instrumental music. In our workshops, I gave to the ensemble some musical materials (a Vietnamese folk tune, a poem sung in different ways due to different dialects, a note with different timbral changes due to linguistic inflections, for instance), and we together explored possibilities on the Western instruments and experimented with how to create a suitable soundscape for the Vietnamese poetry chanting.
Thanks to the talents and inventive ideas of the Seymour Group's members, the music gradually took its shape in my mind after such workshops, and I am happy to see in it what I always want: a delicate and natural mixture of contrasting factors (East / West; indeterminacy / fixity; sentimental / logical; ancient / modern; mythical / realistic; simplicity / complexity, etc.). I believe that such a mixture can express many things beyond cultural limits, and beyond words.
When first approached by Mark Summerbell, I was both tremendously committed to the urgency of the subject matter, and apprehensive about the complexity of such a topic. Including composer Ngoc-Tuan Hoang in the project exhilarated the scope of its content, and focussed its structure. Music and lyric would be Vietnamese in feel, while still reflecting the universal Refugee theme, especially the current “illegal immigrant” debate with its predominant Middle Eastern focus.
How to accomplish and meld such disparate elements? As a further complication, researching 500 years of Vietnamese poetry, I was struck by the beauty and potency of such works. It has been said that Vietnam is a Nation of Poets, and my research reinforced such a notion. How to compete with such quality? The answer – Don’t.
The process of the project included several practical workshops. In preparation for these workshops, a performance template was prepared, drawing upon the six principle elements (a combination of the five traditional elements of Vietnamese culture and the four great elements of Western philosophy).
Water: cool, optimism; representing the ocean voyage and escape from lands of fire
Wood: dawn, bright; representing fragile wooden boats afloat carrying the living,
wood to be transplanted in another land
Earth: harsh, oppressive, heat; representing the landing place of desert, an alien
landscape, implacable bureaucracy, incarceration
Air: the depths of night, black; representing a prison cell, isolation, a dream state,
reliving the past
Metal: dark, nightmarish; punishment, hard edged weapons, tools of torture
Fire: the new dawn; representing the present, the element of change, new
As this template was explored – with themes of travel over water, imprisonment, separation of lovers over place and time, denial of human rights and questions of validity of settlement – the Vietnamese poetry sources were revisited. Excitingly, so many of the most important and poetic texts seemed excruciatingly contemporary, and utterly relevant to themes of Refugees and Imprisonment.
Soft Silk Rough Linen consists of 4 scenes and an epilogue, linked by 3 Entr’actes. In the Post Modern spirit of cut-up, these Entr’actes were designated as the basis for examination of the current refugee situation. Two years of primarily print media coverage was resourced, filtered, collated and composed to create voice collages that provide vocal and thematic links between the four scenes.
Thus, in the very Post-Modern sense of the Palimpsest, where the old manuscript has been re-used but the old artwork is still manifested, there is no new text for Soft Silk Rough Linen. An outcome of this is, just as a Vietnamese audience is introduced to a re-invigorated and re-contextualised poetic canon, a non-Vietnamese audience is introduced to an extraordinarily exquisite tradition of poetry and music, accompanied by fresh and deeply affecting political statements, striking deep into the turmoil of current political debate.
ALL TEXT IN SOFT SILK ROUGH LINEN IS EITHER EXTANT POETRY ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN VIETNAMESE, OR CONTEMPORARY REPORTAGE FROM THE AUSTRALIAN MEDIA ON CURRENT REFUGEE ISSUES.
The Seymour Group
With seven core members driving the group, collaboration with other performers and organisations across Australia enables this ensemble to perform innovative works, from larger instrumental and chamber opera works through to jazz and hybrid art performances. Over 300 performers and associated artists have worked with The Seymour Group. The list reads like a compendium of recent Australian cultural history and includes the names of Graeme Murphy, Barrie Kosky, John Harding, Richard Tognetti, Louis Nowra, Stuart Challender, Robyn Archer, Neil Armfield, Roger Woodward, Kelvin Coe, David Pereira and Michael Kieren Harvey as well as nearly 200 musicians who work in orchestras and ensembles throughout Australia.
Citymoon – (the Vietnamese Australian Contemporary Theatre Company)
was established by Binh Duy Ta and Bruce Keller in order to create a cultural bridge between the Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese Australian communities. Citymoon’s inaugural production Conversations with Charlie premiered in 1996 at the Sydney Asian Theatre Festival. Other contemporary performance work includes the creative developments The Three-Cornered Room (1999) and The Monkey Mother (1998) - which premiered as part of Carnivale 2000, and has been published by Playlab as part of the anthology Three Asian Australian Plays. Intrinsic to Citymoon's vision is the provision of innovative and exciting theatre product, intercultural collaboration between artists, and the professional theatre training of, in particular, Vietnamese Australian youth through the activities of Citymoon Youth Theatre. Workshopped productions for which have included Dat Nuoc: Earth/Water (Country) (1998), Journeys West (1999) and most recently Finding the Buffalo (a site specific performance at the Phuoc Hue Vietnamese Buddhist temple at Wetherill Park) and Beat Box Vox Pop at Fairfield School of Arts.
Mark Summerbell (Artistic Director)
is one of the new generation of conductors gaining recognition in Australia. Following successive appointments as inaugural Conductor-in-Residence with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Australian Opera, in 1992 he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship which he undertook in Europe meeting and observing prominent conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Simon Rattle and Bernard Haitink, with whom he spent four weeks at Covent Garden.Since returning to Australia he has worked with many of the major orchestras and musical organisations in this country. Currently Artistic Director of The Seymour Group and Music Adviser to Chamber Made Opera, his recent engagements have included performances at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC with Chamber Made Opera, a concert tour of France with Camerata Australia, and performances with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Ballet and West Australian Opera. Since becoming Artistic Director, Mark has involved the players extensively in the artistic direction of TSG and has sought to more fully utilise their individual strengths and creativity.
Bruce Keller is co-founder of Melbourne’s Anthill Theatre. In 1985, he wrote the acclaimed children’s play Puppy Love, which continues to be produced nationally and internationally. Since returning to Sydney 1987, he has worked extensively as a performer, dramaturgy, director, writer & teacher- particularly with Entra’cte Theatre Since 1990, he has forged cultural links with Asia, especially Vietnam. In 1994, he directed Vietnam’s first full-length contemporary movement piece The Leper Poet in Hanoi, and in 1996/97 took up an Asialink funded 4 months residency teaching at the major drama schools in Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City. In 1996, he co-founded Citymoon with Binh Duy Ta and since then has worked in many capacities for the company. Most recently, he was co-devisor/director/performer for Finding the Buffalo, and dramaturg for Beat Box Vox Pop. He currently lectures at the School of Contemporary Arts, University of Western Sydney (Nepean).
Ngoc-Tuan Hoang was educated at the University of Saigon (in Oriental Philosophy and Vietnamese Literature); at the University of New England (in Ethnomusicology and Western Philosophy); and at the University of New South Wales (in Music and Education). Since his arrival in Australia as a refugee in December 1983, he has been actively involved in composing music for various instruments and ensembles, using a combination of different sound sources ranging from acoustic to computer-generated and environmental sounds. For his personal instrument, the guitar, he has created many specific scordaturas to accommodate the Western instrument to the Oriental tonalities. His music has been performed by himself and other musicians throughout Australian and in many Asian and European countries. During the past 10 years, he has been participating in various major theatrical projects including: The Return (1994, as composer/actor), The Lotus War (1995, as music director), Conversation with Charlie (1996, as composer), The Monkey Mother (2000, as composer/actor), and Finding the Buffalo (2001, as playwright/composer/actor). Most recently, he was involved as a composer/performer in Beat Box Vox Pop (July 2001), a Citymoon production.
He is also a music educator, and a writer whose poems, short stories and critical essays in Vietnamese and English have been published in many literary and academic journals worldwide.
Christine Draeger (Flute)
studied at the Tasmanian Conservatorium and the Elder Conservatorium with Zdenek Bruderhans, graduating in 1979 with an Honours degree in music. From 1981-86 she was a member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Currently working as a freelance player, Christine is well known for her performances of contemporary music, and since 1982 has been a member of The Seymour Group as well as appearing with Synergy, Symeron and The Song Company. Several Australian composers have written works for her. Christine has a strong interest in music theatre and improvisation, and has developed a number of projects in collaboration with various companies in NSW. She also has extensive experience in developing and leading workshops with young people.
Margery Smith (Clarinet)
graduated with a Diploma of Music Education from the Sydney Conservatorium and followed this with studies in New York with Leon Russianoff of the Julliard School and studies in Europe with Tom de Vette, Henri Bokand Eugene Rousseau. From 1987 to 1993 she was Associate Principal Clarinet with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, appearing as a soloist on both the clarinet and saxophone. She has also appeared with the Australia Ensemble and the Canberra Wind Soloists. Margery is presently on the staff at the Newcastle Conservatorium. Margery is interested in developing musical skills in the community, specifically with those people who have had little opportunity, and has participated in workshops in both Canada and Australia in this area.
Born in Sydney,Scott began studying violin at the age of five.Further to studies at the N.S.W. Conservatorium of Music,he decided to continue his study in Europe and in 1995 moved to Vienna. During this time he worked under the concertmasters of the Austrian Radio,Vienna Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras and chamber music classes with the Vienna String Sextett.He made tours with many of Vienna's leading ensembles to Germany,Italy,Sweden,U.K., Bulgaria,Taiwan,Japan and U.S.A. In 1997 Scott returned to Sydney and has since freelanced as a regular member of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra,Sydney Symphony Orchestra,The Seymour Group and many Film and Television productions.Scott's solo performances include frequent recitals with pianist Rachel Valler and concertos of Brahms,Beethoven,Bruch,Dvorak and Tchaivsky with the Beecroft Orchestra.In 2000 Scott founded the Alfred Hill Quartet which has performed with critical acclaim
Peter Morrison (Cello)
has performed both nationally and internationally since an early age. In 1986 he spent a year in Budapest studying chamber music with members of the Bartok Quartet, followed by studies with Janos Starker in the United States until 1990, the year in which he was also awarded first prize in the Australian Opera National String Competition.. He has also been a member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra since that year, and has played with the Brandenburg Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and as Principal Cellist in the Auckland Symphony Orchestra. Peter has a wide interest in both contemporary and classical chamber music and is active with a number of organisation in Sydney including his own highly acclaimed Ensemble 24 which he formed in 1996.
Denise Papaluca (Piano)
graduated from the Sydney Conservatorium with a major in piano accompaniment. In 1985 she was accepted into the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, completing advanced studies in 1987 with eminent Australian accompanist Geoffrey Parsons in London. Since returning to Australia she has undertaken a wide variety of engagements which include the Sydney Festival, the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, ABC live broadcasts and recordings and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Denise has also performed with Australia's foremost contemporary ensembles including Ariel, Astra, Chamber Made Opera, Pipeline and Synergy Percussion. Denise has an interest in developing high quality Australian repertoire for TSG and has assisted with the instigation of a program of long term relationships with composers which will see the creation of more highly individual works for the ensemble.
Timothy Constable ( Percussionist)
Young Australian percussionist Timothy Constable is rapidly acquiring a reputation for accurate and energetic performances, as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician. He holds a Bachelor of Music from Newcastle University, and was awarded the University Medal upon matriculation. As the recipient of a Queens Trust grant, he spent a year as guest student at the Stockholm Royal College of Music, Sweden, performing with the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the percussion ensemble Kroumata.
Since returning to Australia, he has become involved with numerous ensembles and projects, including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, The Seymour Group, and Synergy Percussion, with whom he recently performed in Warsaw. He is currently studying for a masters degree, investigating the expansion of the percussion repertoire through improvisation and transcription.
Dang Lan is an accomplished musician, singer and actor skilled in traditional Vietnamese music and theatre. Dang Lan studied literature and philosophy at Van Hanh University in Saigon. She also studied traditional Vietnamese instruments in Saigon, specializing in Dan Tranh (sixteen string zither), as well as Dan Bau (monochord) and Sinh Tien (Wood and coin clappers).
In Saigon, she performed on stage in Cheo (Vietnemese Opera) and Dramas on television, and in Tea clubs as a singer/performer. Dang Lan has also performed as a singer/musician on Dan Thranh in USA, Canada and Noumea.
Since coming to Australia in 1975, she has performed regularly for the Vietnamese community, has appeared in documentaries and features for the ABC and SBS television, has worked as a presenter and a singer on SBS radio from 1977 – 1990 and most recently on the Vietnamese programme on radio 2BFM and Pay TV.
Dang Lan has been recorded with Ngoc-Tuan Hoang and Ngoc Anh on a CD produced by Music World (Vietnam - 20 Traditional Favourites).
Phong Do was born in the southern most province of Vietnam called Ca` Mau. In the early 80's he left Vietnam and spent more than a year in a refugee camp in Malaysia (as a minor) before coming to Australia. Phong Do spent most of his teenager years studying English and other languages including Cantonese and Japanese. He began his career as a Travel consultant, however shortly left to explore a number of professions including waiter, medical interpreter and office administration assistant, ending up in what he found himself most comfortable doing, tailoring. Phong Do was trained to be a tailor at a very young age (11yrs old) by his mother who is a professional dressmaker, he enjoys the ability to be creative through fashion. Currently he is working with some of Australia’s top designers.
Apart from fashion, Phong also enjoys music, both Vietnamese and English, and is performing as a solo singer for the Vietnamese community on a weekly basis. His wish is to be able to form an interacial pop-group so he can perform for wider community groups, other than just the Vietnamese community.
Vietnamese Poem Sources
Vietnamese poetry sources accessed include examples from Ca Dao (Vietnamese Folk Poetry) and Tuc Ngu (Vietnamese Folk Wisdom), as well as a significant portion of the celebrated poetic work Ballad of a Warrior’s Wife by Dang Tran Con (1710 – 1745). Other famous poets accessed include: Van Hanh (10th Century) – The Life of Man; Nguyen Dinh Chieu (1822 -1888) – The Storm; Phan Boi Chau (1867 – 1940) – Mourning Nguyen Thai Hoc and Nguyen Thi Giang, Human Nature, To a Cuckoo, and Rights; and Vu Hoang Chuong (1916 – 1976) – Far Away. Besides, there are several fragments of poems by other contemporary and anonymous Vietnamese writers.
Photo and Sculpture Accreditations
‘If They Survive they are refugees’ thanks to UNHCR
Thanks to Dr. Tien Manh Nguyen. for permission to use photographic images.
"Do Not Abandon Me, Freedom" sculpture thanks to Le Thanh Nhon.
Non – Disclaimer
All events, images and text are drawn directly from real life sources and are attributable to actual persons, both living and dead.
Co-Producer The Seymour Group
Artistic Director Mark Summerbell
Executive Producer Justin Macdonnell
Project Manager Jane Powles
Business Manager Ron Cleaver
Publicity Keli Robinson – Vamp Publicity
Co-Producer Citymoon (the Vietnamese Australian
Contemporary Theatre Company)
Co-Artistic Director Bruce Keller
Co-Artistic Director Ta Duy Binh
Administration Assistant Bel Brown
Aus Co logo
To Eve Lester, a huge debt of gratitude.
A special thanks to Colin Fainberg for his never ending unconditional assistance.
Thanks to Lucy and Caitlin at PACT Youth Theatre
And also to UNHCR and HREOC for permission to use text and images
The Seymour Group Board
Professor Sharman Pretty - Chair
Dr Anthony Hood
Seymour Group Management
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