Minh Tran

Performing with his company at PSU's Lincoln Hall, SW Broadway & Market,

725-3307, Sept 23-24, 8 pm, $20-24

In more than 15 years of dance-making, local choreographer Minh Tran's unique blends of traditional Asian technique and gut-wrenching feeling have filled the stage with miniature internal worlds exploded outward in rich swathes of color and movement. Recently, Tran visited Tuol Sleng, an abandoned high school in Cambodia that was transformed into a Khmer Rouge interrogation center during the '70s. The experience fueled "Forgotten Memories," a response to what Tran saw, and also a journey into his own personal history as a Vietnamese refugee escaping a war-torn nation to come to America.

What did you observe at Tuol Sleng that touched you so profoundly?

I was in no way prepared for what I was about to see when we walked in there. They arranged for us to literally be on the torture beds in the rooms, to walk into the rooms where all the bones had been stacked up. The only thing I didn't experience was the smell, but all other senses were encountered—the touch, the feel. When I came back [to Portland] I started developing "Forgotten Memories" because I had to shake it off. What I saw brought back my experience as a refugee when I escaped Vietnam.

Talk about that experience...

I was drafted at 13, and my mom said, "that's it, you have to go." I thought, "Okay, sure, I'll just get on the boat and arrive in Portland," but not so simple. Three months on a little boat in the Mekong Delta and then we got on a big fishing boat, which was 30-feet long, but 65 of us were on it. We got robbed by Thai pirates four times. I swallowed my ring so I could have something to exchange in the Thai refugee camp. Then I lived in a tent for eight months. There were 70,000 people in a refugee camp about as big as a high school football field.

How have these experiences manifested in "Forgotten Memories"?

The work is a series of five solos and each solo deals with a particular theme of the memory I was revisiting. Some of them are quite beautiful and poetic, but some of them are pretty brutal. [And this] is only the beginning—there's only 20 minutes of it. The rest of the evening is my other pieces. "Forgotten Memories" doesn't have closure. The subject doesn't have a solution in my life. I am planning to go back to Cambodia and collect a sense of resolution, which I will then share with the audience. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS