Vân-Ánh Võ on boat people’s ‘Odyssey’

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Aidin Vaziri | Vân-Ánh Võ, the Emmy Award-winning composer who performs under the name Vanessa Vo, was at rehearsals last week in a warehouse in Richmond, trying to remember the cues for her epic new stage production, “The Odyssey From Vietnam to America.” It wasn’t easy. As the lead composer, musician and focal point of the show, it felt like she had to be everywhere at once and, well, sometimes that just didn’t work out.

“It’s funny because yesterday I ran to a spot I wasn’t supposed to be and my instrument wasn’t there,” said Vo, whose main instrument is the dàn tranh, a traditional Vietnamese 16-string zither, but who also plays the dàn bau monochord, the dàn tam thap luc 36-string hammered dulcimer and several other pieces.

Four years in the making, “Odyssey,” which premieres at the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 22-23, brings to stage the struggle of Vietnam’s boat people, the refugees who fled the country on small boats at the end of the war, making hazardous crossings across the ocean in the hopes of finding sanctuary on foreign shores.

“I want to portray the human spirit — the resilience we can have to pass the most difficult time in life,” she said.

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