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My Village offers look into troubled art industry

Update: November, 15/2015 - 05:32

Dying breed: Despite its international success, 12 performers in the show recently submitted their resignations. — Photo

Acrobatic artists staged a lavish circus performance called My Village in France, the US and other countries to much acclaim, but when the show returned to Viet Nam it didn't find success. Instead, it began to dissolve. Son Tung - Thu Huong reports.

Lang Toi (My Village) has been one of Viet Nam's most impressive circus shows that has toured countries such as France, Germany and Spain.

Despite its international success, 12 performers in the show recently submitted their resignations, which drew the attention of the public and also somehow revealed the current problem of northern Viet Nam's arts organisations.

Story of My Village

Following the trend in the world, Lang Toi is set up in the form of a 'new circus' in which the traditional circus skills are performed with the effects of light and music in order to create a specific story and characters.

The show was the brainchild of three artistes, Nguyen Nhat Ly, Nguyen Lan and Le Ngoc Tuan Anh. Built around Viet Nam's typical historical and cultural features, My Village created a pleasant, lively and poetic journey to a typical Vietnamese village, which was demonstrated via a familiar image to every Vietnamese, the bamboo trees.

As plainly as its name implied, together with the light effects, each Vietnamese audience would remember their childhood memories, with the cock crowing, the noise of the buffaloes and cows going to the farm, and the crystal clear sound of the flute in the early morning.

In the village built from bamboo trees, the most typical features of daily life in northern Viet Nam's rural areas were vividly illustrated by means of acrobatics, juggling and traditional music.

Premiered in 2005 with the investment of about VND1 billion (US$48,000), My Village was performed with 100 artistes, most of whom came from the Viet Nam Circus Federation. In 2008, the script was rewritten, and the number of performers was reduced to 20.

"That was the first time we had set up a circus show that profoundly demonstrated the national spirit," artiste Anh said about the idea for My Village.

"We expected to orient the young Vietnamese audience towards their origin, as well as introduce Viet Nam's cultural beauty to many countries," Anh added.

After two trial performances in Viet Nam, My Village was taken to France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and many other European countries, with the aim of promoting Viet Nam's circus to international audiences. It expectedly left a deep impression on them, with over 300 performances.

Explaining why the show was not officially performed in Viet Nam before it went on tour to many countries, artiste Ly said that My Village was expected to impress international audiences first, which would help draw the attention of domestic audiences on its return.

Coming back home

In contrast to the positive feedback from the international audiences, My Village found it difficult to win the hearts of the Vietnamese after ending its touring contracts and returning home in 2013.

The number of its performances on the domestic stage could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

According to Vu Ngoan Hop, the director of Viet Nam Circus Federation, the biggest challenge the show faced was the lack of an appropriate location.

He said that the stage of My Village required sophisticated specific devices, which none of the domestic stages, including the national circus, could satisfy.

He also admitted that a contemporary circus show like My Village might not be attractive enough for Vietnamese audiences, who were used to the traditional circus. They, therefore, still hesitated to pay a high price for the tickets.

Just over a month ago, 12 circus performers and one technician of My Village suddenly submitted their resignations, most of whom mentioned financial reasons for the decision.

Balancing act: My Village created a lively, poetic journey to a typical Vietnamese village, which was demonstrated through an image familiar to every Vietnamese, the bamboo cane. — Photo

"My total income working for the Viet Nam Circus Federation was VND4.2 million (US$200) per month, which was not enough to make ends meet," Nguyen Quang Tho, the team leader of the show said.

"The income of some of the others was even lower, just over VND2 million ($95)," he added.

Tho, 33, was a member of the federation since 2000. Together with other colleagues, he had been through all the ups and downs of My Village since its birth in 2005 until the day it came back home.

On the foundations of basic circus techniques that they comprehended, the team also had to spend years to learn the techniques of dancing and playing musical instruments in order to perform a contemporary circus show.

Their dedication for the contemporary show for such a long time limited their opportunities to participate in traditional shows, as it takes up to six months to practise and prepare for a finished show.

"It is not true that we did not want to perform traditional shows of the Viet Nam Circus Federation. While My Village rarely performed on the domestic stage, we also had a few offers to appear in shows of the federation," Tho said.

Even for members who worked regularly for the federation, their income was no better.

For example, Le Viet Tuan, a technician of Lang Toi, received very little in addition to his salary of VND2.5 million ($119) per month. He was among the 13 artistes who submitted their resignations.

However, some members of My Village revealed that besides the economic issue, the few opportunities that their spiritual child was receiving to perform also accounted for their leaving.

"Each artiste used to receive about VND1 million ($48) for each show abroad, and around VND 150,000 ($7) for each show held by the federation. To be honest, money was not the main reason. All of us were willing to work for a low salary, as long as we could perform My Village regularly on stage," Tuan said.

According to Pham Xuan Quang, the vice director of Viet Nam Circus Federation, the artistes will be provided with the most favourable conditions for their aspirations, and their benefits will be guaranteed.

"Some procedures certainly have to be dealt with in accordance to the civil service law. Though there have been direct talks between the artistes and the managers of the federation which aimed to persuade them to reconsider their decision, we do not want to cause any difficulties," Quang said.

The sad story of My Village circus show is a typical lesson for not only the Viet Nam Circus Federation but also for other arts organisations in Viet Nam about the failure of a successful show.

"Moreover, it is also the story of marketing and promotion strategies, which require innovation in state organisations," Tuan added. — VNS

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