To fully understand the impact of the Vietnam War and the splintering emotions it brings to bear, there are many places one need look: To the battlefield, of course, but also to college campuses, living rooms, cemeteries and the dark landscape of a veteran’s mind.
Robin Becker’s “Into Sunlight,” a dance based on a book by Washington Post associate editor David Maraniss, is a sweeping survey of all those settings. Performed Saturday at Georgetown University’s Davis Performing Arts Center, it’s a forceful, reverential remembrance of the lives lost or upended in that era.
Despite the broad expanse of events it aims to capture, this evening-length work is remarkably focused. None of the vignettes feels superfluous and each choreographic detail is deliberate.
Becker has divided the dancers into two sets, one wearing purple shirts and trousers and the other dressed in icy gray. The dancers in the former group serve as our primary storytellers, while the latter group functions differently throughout the piece. Sometimes they are barely-breathing bodies strewn on a battlefield, other times they are agents of chaos at a protest. But always they are the inescapable ghosts of loss and disillusionment that haunt this dance.
Becker’s choreography is defined by its smart construction. In a section that represents a woman trying to keep her lover from going off to war, long sequences of movement are repeated in a subtle nod to the fact that this pivotal moment is probably one that was relived over and over again.
And she cleverly sets up an effective contrast: Fast runs, high-flying lifts and driving music create an atmosphere of confusion and disorder in the protest scenes. But scenes from the front lines are quieter and more contemplative, with slow, weighted movement and ambient, ethereal music.
Many parts of “Into Sunlight” give the audience room to fill in the details. In the penultimate section, “Longing,” one of the male dancers in gray sits immobile and straight-backed on the floor. Another dancer, Yoko Sugimoto-Ikezawa, throws her arms around him tightly, an image that looks almost like she could be clutching a tombstone. But as she continues, touching his steely face, sitting in his lap and finally lying beside him, different but equally wrenching stories unspool: Maybe she is a woman watching a loved one die, or maybe she’s trying to connect with a withdrawn man who’s coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s that kind of layered composition that probably allows any veteran to see a piece of himself or his experiences in this work.
Halzack is a freelance writer.