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Circus maestro with a passion for teaching

Update: July, 22/2018 - 09:00
Flex it: Artist Lê Văn Thể (centre) with his students at Việt Nam Circus and the Variety Arts School.
Viet Nam News

by Ngọc Trâm

Despite being in his 70s, artist Lê Văn Thể can still perform precise, strong and beautiful moves. Even his best students admit that they still have a long way to go to be as good as their teacher. The lessons start with morning coffee that he makes for his students, and then move on to traditional performances.

For first-year students, he even kneels or lies on the floor to help students balance and do handstands. There was a time when he was performing with his students in Quảng Ninh Province when the stand collapsed. Thể used his body as a replacement so his students could continue to practise, and his knees still hurt to this day.

“At my age, I would be bored if I just stayed at home. I still have strength and passion so I want to do something for the students. I can’t help much but I also don’t want to waste the experiences that I have gained over the years, they need things like that to use in their own careers,” Thể said.

Thu Trang remembers the day of her graduation exam when Thể had a stroke after sitting for two hours in the sun preparing for her acrobatics act.

Acrobatic: The horizontal bar act directed by Lê Văn Thể. Photo
Smooth: Artist Lê Văn Thể (left) and students at the Hubei International Circus Festival 2014. Photo

Phương Thảo, another of Thể’s students, shared: “Between us there is no distance between teacher and student; we all think of Thể as our grandfather. He is strict, but also encouraging, kind and funny, and wants us to grow strong. When I was afraid of the sword swallowing act on the trapeze, he encouraged me: Don’t be afraid, you can do it! Just tell me if you have any problems!”

Circus ’addiction’

Whiping sweat after the exercise, Thể said: “In my life, I only have two addictions: circus and fitness. I could never give them up while I can still do them.”

Thể’s homeland is in Huế but he was born and grew up in Thailand. In 1960, he returned to Việt Nam.

At the age of 13 he became a fitness fanatic and was a well-known model in Udon, Thailand. He also had a talent for photography, and intended to open a photography shop, but instead he applied for circus course with the Central People’s Circus (1961-1963) and became a performer.

At his peak in 1970, Thể was the only artist able to perform nine different acts on stage.

Ngọc Hảo, who Thể taught the “Trường Sơn Hammock” act in 1986 – a performance which won silver medal at the National Circus Festival 1987 – said: “With Thể, every time he sees someone with passion and potential, he makes every effort to help, even now he is nearly 80. For me, Thể is a good artist, and a good teacher.”

Speaking about his worries and desires for the future of Việt Nam Circus, he said: “My desire is for Việt Nam’s circus industry to continue developing. There are still difficulties facing its development in the country, and the school has to compete with other types of performing art."

"We used to have many experienced performers, but now there are not many left, and circus performers now are relatively unknown. The only thing I can do now is to teach the next generation with all that I have and hope they will grow from what I have taught them,”he added. VNS

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