Dam Van Huynh: Moving into choreography

The choreographer Dam Van Huynh is an Associate Artist for Dance United and recently returned from a two-year residency at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Here the dancer-turned-teacher-turned-choreographer talks about how to set up your own company and why being a director is a little like being a therapist…

When did you decide to go from being a dance teacher to being a choreographer?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision; there wasn’t a lightbulb moment. My ultimate goal has always been dancing. Choreography came into the mix more as a question – every time you work on a new project, with different choreographers and companies, it is a question. I was curious, I suppose. I have an analytical mind. As those questions get bigger and heavier, you start to find solutions in your mind and in your body.

What made you want to set up your own company?
Looking at the landscape of dance, I saw some of the models for how people were assembling work. Being project-based reflects the financial times: you can just assemble for a short period, so it’s much more economical. But that model benefits everyone but the dancers ñ the choreographers get the fame for the work they set up, the organisations that support it get their moment and tick their boxes, but the dancers lose out on a certain amount of development. For example, they miss out on consistent training and having a teacher that studies your technique over a long period. So I set up the company, to keep hold of that development structure. The dancers are engaged, we all believe in what we’re doing and how we should work, we’re all committed to creating something and in exchange I will train them. It all just has a bit more consistency. But it makes it challenging, because it means I donít have any money.

What steps did you take to set up the company?
Rather naively, I just approached the dancers I thought would be interested and said, I can’t offer you money, but this is what I want to do. We found space to rehearse and had a little support from Laban and The Place. Then it was a matter of trying to find a way to sustain it. I’m sure that’s the wrong way to do it – it’s much better to get the funding, approach the right people and then set it up, but that’s the way I did it.

What’s been the biggest challenge in your career and what was your highlight?
The biggest challenge is always finding the money. It’s less about paying myself – although I need to eat – but about engaging the dancers. They are the most important thing; they are the living art itself. My career highlight? Seeing a theory or vision come to life.

What advice would you pass on to emerging choreographers and dancers?
If you wait for things, it’ll never happen. In dance, if you can conceive it, then do it. That’s my philosophy. It’s live art; it’s this momentary thing and you have to capture it. Expectations aside, you just have to jump and see what happens. Also, as a director or choreographer you are the father, the mother, the therapist, the seamstress, the technician, everything. It can be overwhelming, so if you stopped to think about it, you’d never do it. It’s a tough art form because you are pulling something out of nothing. Be clear in what you choose, invest in the art form and it will invest back in you.