Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Steps to Freedom: Dancer-Choreographer Danny Nguyen Escaped from Vietnam. Now He's Escaping the Closet. (Dance)

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Steps to Freedom: Dancer-Choreographer Danny Nguyen Escaped from Vietnam. Now He's Escaping the Closet. (Dance)

Article excerpt

"I want to come out internationally," proclaims San Francisco dancer-choreographer Danny Nguyen. He means that two ways. He wants his modern dance company, Danny Nguyen Dancers and Musicians, to be accepted in the sometimes inhospitable cultural landscape of the Vietnamese and Asian communities. He also wants them to know what only his dance family and closest friends know--that he is gay.

"Vietnamese gays are still very closeted," Nguyen says. "I was always afraid to tell my community about my sexuality. I sometimes felt I had to pretend that I have a girlfriend. I can't do that anymore." In reality, Nguyen, 38, has been in a committed relationship for six years with Eric McAllister, an IBM project manager.

Nguyen creates at a furious pace--a fellow dancer calls him a "choreographic machine." He teaches dance, runs his own company, and, to make ends meet, works in a restaurant. Currently he's preparing a work about the September 11 attacks. "Images and ideas keep coming at me," he says. Meanwhile, his troupe is rehearsing Asian New Year performances for San Francisco's Vietnamese and Chinese celebrations, Silicon Valley's cultural festival, and the Oakland Vietnamese Street Festival.

Nguyen's powerful, expressionistic choreography reflects his epic struggle to escape his war-torn home. The youngest of seven children, Nguyen was 11 when Saigon fell in 1975. His family split up in order to stay alive. Nguyen remembers the carnage of that time and his father's words: "From now on, we have to face the real world."

In 1982, after 30 attempts, 18-year-old Nguyen escaped from Vietnam and ended up on an 24-foot boat with 48 people. They were rescued by a German oil tanker in the middle of the ocean. (Nguyen addresses this harrowing journey in his ballet Endless Passage.) Asked how he could take such risks, he replies, "I'd rather escape my country and be dead in the ocean. …

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