Is it cabaret? Theater? Solo performance of Groningen’s Nhung Dam cannot be pigeonholed

Last year, Nhung Dam published her second novel and created a new theater performance ‘Nhung exposes herself’. In passing, she learned to play the bass guitar, sing in Vietnamese and came up with a mantra for herself: ‘Well, that’s also part of my job.’ How come?

“I am extremely curious and I have a big WOTL, as I call it, a Will To Live. And to learn and try new things.” A few days after the premiere of her new solo, Nhung Dam is still high on adrenaline. “It was so exciting!” But she is very pleased with the good reception: great reviews and happy people in the room.

She was ‘artist in residence’ at DeLaMar in Amsterdam for a year, where she was able to create her new performance: “I received the key to DeLaMar for a year and the support of a number of wonderful people.” It was an exciting process to create this new performance, guided by musician Erik van der Horst and directed by director and lifelong friend Koos Terpstra.

Hutspot and ‘circle birthdays’

The title is not without reason Nhung exposes himself : it is her most personal performance to date. She explains how it was a coincidence that she ended up in Groningen, a coincidence that she likes stew and ‘circular birthdays’. The ship that took her Vietnamese parents from the sea happened to be a Dutch ship. Nhung exposes himself is a ‘cabaret-meets-theatre’ performance about the crucial intersections in her life. She shows how much depends on chance: a slightly different turn can lead to a completely different life.

She grew up in a Groningen city district and was always considered ‘not from us’ there, even though she was born and raised there. She is pleased that in recent years, also in theaters, more attention has been paid to people of color or with a different cultural background.

“I enjoyed working on it The Banana Generation , based on the book of the same name by Pete Wu, a performance in which voices were finally heard that I missed so much in my youth. It was a liberating experience, also because it contained so much power and humor: all different stories of people who have or had a background in East Asia, are rooted in the middle of Dutch society, but are constantly reminded of their ‘otherness’. I always thought I was alone in that.”

She carries with her the fact that her parents ended up here as Vietnamese boat refugees, but she has had enough of being billed as a ‘Vietnamese refugee’.

Member of the ANWB

“I don’t want to be limited to that label for the rest of my life. Yes, I am a child of Vietnamese boat refugees, but I am so much more: I am a modern woman, I am someone who goes to yoga, I am a member of the ANWB, I am all kinds of things.”

She hates the prevailing pigeonholing and is therefore extra happy with the reviews that praise her performance as a multidisciplinary production: it is theater, it is cabaret, there is singing, it is all kinds of things, it cannot be captured in a box, just like herself.

For the first time she also sings in the performance. “I attended the Theater and Kleinkunstacademie and we sang a lot there, especially the Annie MG repertoire, but that was a while ago, so I took singing lessons again.”

We immediately clicked with Erik van der Horst: “He is a great musician and he can also compose. I sent him lyrics to melodies, even in Vietnamese, and he then made the music based on that. Vietnamese is a very complex language: if you pronounce the same word in different ways, it takes on a completely different meaning. I am a language person, so that concerns my creative brain.”

Music plays an important role, even at home where normally display of emotions was not appreciated. “But as soon as my parents came near one of those karaoke machines, it suddenly turned on. Then I actually saw them coming home.”

Like a rock star on stage

She found singing in Vietnamese terrifying at first: “My whole life it was a kind of code language that was only used within the family and now I suddenly share it with the public.” Her parents have not yet seen the performance, but her brother and sister have. “They were very proud to suddenly see me standing on stage like a rock star with my bass guitar. And moved because in the performance I talk about a letter I would like to send to my mother. That turns out to be a moving moment for many people in the audience. After all, everyone has a mother.”

Do everything extra well

The complete fear of death that she once experienced before going on stage has subsided somewhat. “But for a closed person like me it is not obvious to step onto the stage alone and expose your buttocks. It undoubtedly has to do with the feeling that, as a child of people who have suffered so much hardship, you have to do everything extra well. You have a lot to lose, everything can be pulled out from under you in an instant. You feel extra pressure.” Hence the mantra she now whispers to herself now and then, when things get tense, to put things into perspective: “Well, that’s also part of my job.”

‘Nhung exposes himself’, 16/2 De Winsinghhof, Roden; 1/3 Hofpoort, Coevorden; 14/3 De Lawei, Drachten; 28/3 De Harmonie, Leeuwarden; 6/4 De Oosterpoort, Groningen; 17/4 De Klinker, Winschoten; 26/4 Ogterop, Meppel.

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Name Nhung Dam

Born Groningen, 1984

Course studied psychology, Amsterdam Theater School and Kleinkunstacademie

Career theater maker, actress and writer; her debut novel was published in 2017 A thousand fathers (awarded as Best Groningen Book), her second novel in 2023 Definition of love . She has starred in several films and TV series such as Clamp , Cops Maastricht , The secret diary of Hendrik Groen , Thirtysomethings , The year of Fortuyn ; she writes a weekly column Noordhollands Dagblad . In the theater she appeared in a large number of performances, including The Banana Generation from Theater Oostpool and made the solo programs Ha Ha Happiness and 3 million footsteps to Sicily

Privately lives with her boyfriend in Amsterdam

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