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Lone mime artist silently keeps an art alive

Update: July, 12/2015 - 04:30
Heartfelt: Mime artist Nguyen Hoang Tung during a performance. — VNS Photos Moc Mien

Well past its heyday in Viet Nam, the art of pantomime is apparently the sole preserve of one passionate artist, Nguyen Hoang Tung, for whom it is a meaningful, metaphorical journey. Moc Mien reports.

The Blackbox - an experimental art space surrounded by black walls and equipment - is witnessing Nguyen Hoang Tung move the audience to laughter and tears, without a word escaping his lips.

With just music, facial expression, and body language, this mime artist has everyone in rapt attention.

"When I was 9, I came to know about mime via some short courses at the Ha Noi Children's Palace for Arts and Culture. I grew more and more attracted to mime, and why not? I love the fact that mime artists can imitate any emotion or action and can tease the imagination of people," Tung said.

For Tung, performing mime is to liberate the body. While Tung finds enacting the lively, flexible, and exact movements of sensations attractive, they are also his hardest challenges. If an artist can master all the mime techniques, he can push the imagination of his audience through the symbols of people, animals or things that he imitates.

Tung had to put up quite a struggle to reach where he has today. Before accepting mime as his final destination, he would try his hand at various art forms.

"I grew up and studied at the Ha Noi College of Drama and Cinematography. I was a good student, and I got lucky when the Experimental Physical Theatre Team of the Ha Noi Youth Theatre came to pick students for their team. There was no looking back for me after that, and I continue to work with them until today," Tung noted.

"Physical drama is quite close to mime. I was happy in every act where I could use my body freely. I was even happier to take roles without scripts, though I was there to support other artists. I was myself and became creative in those roles," Tung said.

The Mask: A play performed by Tung.

He remembered the 1970s and 1980s by which time mime had been introduced in Viet Nam. The art form provided food for thought to quite a few members of the audience because of the passion, creativity and activeness of early mime artists such as Phuc Dzy, Dang Dung, Tho Hoa and Tien Dung, besides Ke Doan and Bich Ngoc. Mime had its heyday, impressing both adults and children.

"I guess the development of other, more entertaining art forms, plus the depletion of creativity of the mime artists made the mime wave fade away," Tung said.

Over the past decades, mime has faded in Viet Nam. The artists have had to switch careers or have just integrated mime acts into entertainment programmes for children.

Tung said he was influenced by the creativity and performing style of Marcel Marceau, the father of modern mime. However, Tung's mime acts such as those about the mask and mirror - classic symbols in Marceau's mime - reveal another perspective of contemporary life.

Even when he officially moved to mime, other than mainstreaming it into other plays, Tung did not hesitate to watch again and again Marceau's shows to sustain his techniques and skills. Over the years, his love for mime and his abilities have become stronger. Yet, he had to wait before he got his breakthrough.

Only after 2014, when Tung attended some training workshops on mime by Iimuro Naoki, one of best students of Marcel Marceau in Japan, did he understand that mime could be more lively, meaningful and metaphorical than he had expected.

"I had a major question for Iimuro Naoki, in that whether the creation of new mime acts was just based on the available combination of movements.

"He said 'yes'. Since then, I have been more self-confident than ever."

Tung has immersed himself in working, researching and practising mime to the best of his ability. He tries to think more critically about controversial topics so that his work can be developed in a modern and multi-faceted way. "The Return of Mime" show was born in that context.

"It is as if I am doing art alone. The greatest challenge for me is to encourage myself, to find suitable topics, to direct and to act alone. I do everything involved at the moment because I am the only active mime artist in Viet Nam," he said.

'The Return of Mime' is being considered one of the highlights in art circles in Ha Noi and HCM City since early this year. The show includes eight numbers such as 'Selfie', 'Suicide', 'Bird's Wings', and 'In a Hospital', as well as 'Diary of a Mother', 'The Mirror', 'The Two Separate Worlds', and 'The Mask'.

The mime acts are a fabulous combination of comic and tragic elements, reflecting the reality of modern life. The act can include sarcasm on the wave of "selfies" or the friendship between a bird and a boy. It can also be the concern about the opposition between the separate worlds of the rich and the poor, and war and peace, or the masks that people wear in the era of complicated communication.

"I am thinking all the time and everywhere to relate mime acts with reality. I try to observe daily life from different angles, and then I brainstorm ideas for the acts. I choose the music, and I think about the movements. Everything must be done in a diligent and exact manner," Tung said.

After two performances of "The Return of Mime" at Hong Ha Theatre in March, Tung has taken the show to The Blackbox art space where the audience can be close to him in terms of space and contact.

Every day, besides practising, Tung learns a lot about contemporary dance, does running and yoga and eats vegetarian food to keep fit and strong.

"I am always concerned about giving the audience a chance to get closer to mime. That's why I am trying my best to be mentally and physically strong to stay with the art. I really hope that the space for mime will be expanded in the near future." Tung said. — VNS

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