BY IVY LI ’21
Guests attending Mount Holyoke’s Vietnam Night, hosted by the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA), were greeted by candles in baskets, toasted coconut flakes and excitement as they stepped into Chapin Auditorium on Friday night, Feb. 22.
Audience members enjoyed a catered dinner from Miss Saigon in Amherst before the night’s performance. “I love the good food and conversation,” said Salina Hussain ’21, who came to see a friend perform in the show. “I am all about the dance and the fashion show!”
Faculty were also excited for the event. “The noodles are great and we’re looking forward to the performance,” said Professor Katie Berry from the biochemistry department, who came to the event with her two sons.
This year’s Vietnam Night was structured differently from the previous years’ performances, where emcees would introduce each act and transition be-ween performers. This year, the show was structured so that each individual performance came together to create a single narrative. “So tonight, we will reimagine our origin as not simply a noun or a static narrative, but a muse through which we explore and express and emanate our individual brilliance, our collective,” said Ren Dinh ’19, a VSA board member and performer as an introduction to the show.
Dinh opened up the show with a remixed version of a traditional Vietnamese legend previously written for an open mic, taking a legend about the creation of the Vietnamese people and reclaiming that heritage, while a sand-drawing in the background visualized the story.
In constructing such a unique narrative, the goal for the night was to present “different aspects of Vietnam that the U.S. doesn’t know,” Dinh said.
Under the dim purple light, dancers in purple Vietnamese clothing presented a traditional dance, accompanied by the ageless Vietnamese lullaby, “Co La,” and a modern musical, “Bong Bong Bang Bang.”
“The song is from my favorite Vietnamese sing- er,” one of the dancers, Brooklyn Bui ’21, said during intermission. “I had so much fun, and it makes me love my culture even more.”
After the eye-catching dance and music perfor- mances, a skit, “Com Nha,” brought the spirit of Viet- nam onto the stage. Inspired by a true story, the skit
was directed by Dinh, Ann M. Tran ’20 and Phi Do ’22. The skit depicted two generations of Vietnamese fam- ilies’ New Year celebrations, from 1989 to 2019. Per- formers called upon the audience to go onstage and join in the dancing.
After the audience was immersed in the warm and beautiful family story, the much-anticipated fashion show finally began, featuring the most iconic Vietnamese fashion from the 1970s to the present. The models came from both Mount Holyoke and UMass Amherst, and the audience cheered for models they knew.
“I am sorry. It’s my grandma.” The music suddenly stopped when the granddaughter character from the previous skit spoke to her grandmother on the phone. This little interruption served as a natural transition into a discussion between older and younger generations on the modernized version of “ao dai” (a Vietnamese garment) versus the traditional version: both a discussion on style and on the preservation and evolution of the Vietnamese culture. Audiences also participated in the discussion, reckoning the beauty of both versions as the best way to communicate the spirit of Vietnam.
During the intermission, chatter and laughter echoed throughout the room and audience members lined up for rice pudding.
The acts continued, and the big hit of the night — the senior performance — brought both laughter and tears, celebrating the friendships and memories between seniors at Mount Holyoke. The performance first reenacted a casual weekend night hangout, immediately followed by graduation day. The seniors were talking about their confusion and dreams for after graduation. “Let’s appreciate the moment!” said the seniors while they sang the “Cho Ban Cho Toi,” holding each others’ hands. A collection of graduation countdown photos, illustrating all the good times spent together, was projected on the screen.
The “Acoustic Medley,” performed by guitarist Thai Nguyen from Amherst College, Minh Khuu ’21 and Chi Doan ’22 lled the night with the tenderness of music about love. Many Vietnamese students were singing along to the familiar song.
Finally, a classic New Year song, “Khuc Giao Mua” again delivered the unchanging nature of love, a celebration of home, of precious memories with loved ones and of the future. Amid the audience’s enthusi- astic cheers, the VSA members gradually joined the stage. Clapping their hands, the audience provided the beat, perfectly complementing the performers’ voices.
VSA members initially worried that the show’s new format would be too difficult for audiences to follow, but they felt the night was ultimately a success. Dinh admitted that the new format was very ambitious, but said that VSA remained confident in their choice. “If you want to make a difference, we have to do it this way,” said Dinh.