The only foreign artist in the Ho Chi Minh City-based Arabesque Dance Company Vietnam, a company that regularly organizes dance performances in and outside Vietnam, Japanese dancer Chika Tatsumi appreciates the Southeast Asian country for the opportunities and challenges she has had here.
Tatsumi was born in Japan and pursued dance studies in China for five years.
Subsequently, she continued her education in the Netherlands for four years and extended her stay to work for an additional two years.
"After spending six years in the Netherlands, I began contemplating the idea of moving to another place to explore new challenges," the 32-year-old artist recounted events from eight years ago.
"I heard that Arabesque Vietnam's art director, Nguyen Tan Loc – whom I had known during my time in Japan – was seeking new dancers with a strong classical technique.
"So I simply reached out to him on Facebook, and that's how my journey to Vietnam began."
|Tatsumi Chika is seen performing onstage. Photo: Huynh Vy / Tuoi Tre
A trip to remember and be inspired
Vietnam, as the country where Tatsumi has resided the longest after Japan, naturally holds numerous memories for her.
One of the most memorable experiences was her first trip to the Mekong Delta, which was filled with surprises for a foreign woman.
Around 2016, Tatsumi and her dance company visited Can Tho and Soc Trang Provinces to immerse themselves in the local life, seeking inspiration and practical experience for their performance of 'The Mist.'
During this time, she and her team slept on the floor, hand-washed clothes, walked barefoot into the fields to catch snails, embraced a banana tree, waded across a river (as she did not know how to swim), and ventured into gardens to pick fruit without prior knowledge of the varieties.
This experience provided them with a unique perspective on the region's lifestyle.
And especially, that was the first time she ate a rat in her life.
"At the beginning, I was shocked. Really. I was like, 'Are you gonna eat rat?' Because I was just coming from Ho Chi Minh City, and I saw street rats which were as big as cats. Then I ate some. It had an amazing taste," Tatsumi recounted.
"I wanted to eat more. I just kept eating. And then they told me that the rats are meant to be eaten, so they only eat rice."
This experience highlighted the cultural diversity within Vietnam, exposing Tatsumi to new culinary perspectives.
Beyond the joyful memories, the picturesque sight of early morning fields adorned with dew under the glistening sunlight deeply moved Tatsumi, allowing her to cultivate emotions for her stage performance.
'The Mist' narrates the tale of Vietnamese farmers, and this serene scene played a crucial role in infusing authenticity and emotion into her portrayal on stage.
The journey also made Tatsumi appreciate the resourcefulness of Vietnamese people, observing their ability to manage various tasks with minimal or no tools.
In her subsequent work, she noticed that even when faced with a shortage of equipment, people still found ways to make things happen.
This resilience and adaptability left a lasting impression on the Japanese woman.
|Tatsumi Chika is seen in a supplied photo taken by photographer Dai Ngo.
'Everything is still developing'
Leaving behind her career in the Netherlands, a developed country in Europe, to live in Vietnam, Tatsumi worried her mother.
However, the artist has her reasons. “We are Asians so I feel very even,” she explained.
Above all, for Tatsumi, Vietnam is an ideal place, not only because of its proximity to Japan, allowing her convenient visits back home, but also due to the ongoing development and growth she witnesses in the country.
“Instead of jumping into level ten and having everything, it's more interesting to see a whole scenario of the development,” she said.
“I think it's challenging to me, and also the main reason that I wanted to come here.
“At the beginning, I thought I would stay for five years or something and then move to another place but then somehow with Arabesque, I couldn't leave."
For an artist like Tatsumi, the pressures, injuries, and days filled with practice from dawn till dusk, enduring tiredness and sore knees, are all compensated by the emotional tears or joyous expressions on the faces of the audience after the performances.