by Nguyen Khanh Chi
HA NOI — The girl in brown attire moves her oars quickly, pushing the bamboo forward over the waves.
|High wire: A scene from the Lang Toi circus show, which combines circus tacts with traditional Vietnamese song and dance.—VNS/VNS Photo Anh Phuong
The scene is a common sight in the Vietnamese countryside, but it's all happening on a stage. What strikes me and perhaps the other audience members at the Opera House hall is the hard bamboo trees that are moved in time to create the movement of the water. It really reflects the great imagination and creativity of the show's directors.
Bamboo, a symbol of rural Vietnamese life is the main "ingredient" in the one-hour Lang Toi (My Village) circus show held last Friday.
Lang Toi is a contemporary circus genre, which combines traditional circus skills and theatrical techniques to convey a story or theme.
Daily life is told through the movement of performers in villagers' costumes, giving the illusion of the peaceful life of a Vietnamese village.
The villagers awake as the rooster crows… the daily market starts with the cries of sellers and chatter of market-goers, the children play jump rope while the parents work in the rice paddies… Taking a break from their work, farmers smoke bamboo pipes under the tropical sun.
In the evening, lovers meet on suspended high wires under the glistening light… At the heart of the spectacle we can hear the sound of traditional musical instruments playing a melody that vibrates with the pulse of life created by the pace and rhythm of acrobats and jugglers… taking you to the centre of this transformed space, to see the reflection of life in a remote village.
"Wonderful! First of all, I'd like to say everything is so Vietnamese, from the stage decoration, music, instruments, to performers' costumes," said theatre director People's Artist Pham Thi Thanh.
"Images of Vietnamese rural life mingle with folk songs. The show makes use of Vietnamese culture comprehensively. Contemporary music and circus art are combined to convey cultural activities.
"I've never seen any circus performance like this. There are lots of variations in the show."
Lang Toi is a co-operation programme between performers from the Vietnam Circus Federation and members of the ART – EN SEMBLE Association from France.
The show came into being in 2005 under the direction of Nguyen Lan, Le Tuan and Nguyen Nhat Ly, who sought to create a distinct Vietnamese style of circus act that also applied modern expressionist techniques.
"This is the first time we set up a circus show bringing into full play Vietnamese identities with bamboo as the main element," said Le Tuan.
The programme combined the rhythmic movements of circus, dance, traditional games and farming activities, and mixed this with music created from folk instruments specially designed for the circus. Therefore, the 20 performers in the show are expected to be able to carry out multiple tasks.
"The stage, props and costumes originate from the cultures of the many tribes and regions in Viet Nam and the modern sound stage helps bring the soul of these traditional festivities to life," said Tuan.
"Hopefully this will be the start of a transformation for the Vietnamese circus, enabling performers to find a new course for the performing arts and strengthen the role of the circus in Vietnamese culture."
Compared with the traditional circus, the contemporary genre of Lang Toi circus tends to focus more attention on the overall aesthetical impact of the show, as well as on character and story development, and on the use of lighting design, original music, and costume design to convey thematic or narrative content.
"I really like it, as it's a very different view of circus in which varied forms of art are combined, such as circus, dancing and music, which enables the spectators to feel many things at the same time," said artist Pham Huy Thong, adding that he would have to wait a long before the show comes back.
"The level of difficulty is not high but what circus artists perform on the stage really captures the audience's attention. I like the idea of using bamboo as the main instrument in the show. I'm so excited to see bamboo poles create so many shapes, even a giant flower. They use simple tools to a great effect."
Lang Toi was first performed abroad at Quai Branly Museum in Paris in 2009. Since then it has been staged in many countries including France, Belgium, the UK, Spain, the Netherlands and Singapore.
"Now that we have returned to perform at home we were moved to see the enthusiastic encouragement from the audience through non-stop applause," said Meritorious Artist Pham Van Doanh, a circus performer and flute player.
"Such sentiments make us extremely happy. We have travelled through 49 cities in the world staging a total of 194 shows. I know this return is a great success."
Lang Toi organisers said they plan to begin a series of shows throughout Viet Nam from April next year.— VNS