Who doesn’t love a circus? With a three-part series, diaCRITICS’ guest France correspondent Ly Lan Dill takes us to the big top, where Làng Tôi weaves Vietnamese culture and music alongside circus acrobatics and artistry. In the first installment, Dill introduces us to Làng Tôi and how this village is the new circus of Viet Nam.
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The Circus has come to town! For the past month of July, the new Vietnamese circus had taken up residency at the Grand Halle de la Villette for its last 20 performances in France before embarking on their international tour. Làng Tôi is an invitation to a voyage into an idealized, pastoral Việt Nam. From the dark, hushed whispers of the expectant audience, comes the first rays of light. On stage, the villagers wake to the sound of roosters, children jump rope and play chơi chuyền (bamboo jacks) and đá cầu (shuttlecock) while the parents work in the rice fields. The farmers smoke their pipe in the shade and in the evening, lovers walk on monkey bridges in the starlight.
We are at the heart of a sublimated vision of a quieter time, when all ethnicities lived together, working the land. Each element of the show has been carefully chosen to symbolize Việt Nam: the traditional games, the stylized vocabulary of farming gestures, the ochre flooring that evokes the land around the Red River delta, the costumes with the áo yếm and áo bà ba, and most importantly the bamboo – a central character in and of itself. All of these symbolically traditional elements are re-interpreted through traditional forms of music, song, dance, theatre, and circus acts to create an utterly inventive, contemporary performance.
We are a far cry from Barnum and Bailey or Cirque de Soleil’s dazzling entertainment. Long-standing, European circus traditions have led to a movement that considers the circus an art form on par with any of the performing arts. Làng Tôi has recomposed traditional elements into a new vernacular that pushes the boundaries of its circus idiom even further. Here, bamboo acts have been added to the repertoire of traditional circus numbers; but bamboo has been sublimated to more than just a tool. The traditional thick bamboo fences around this quintessential village have been uprooted. They are manipulated by the fourteen artists, transforming the stage, creating and erasing typical scenes of daily life: a boat, a house on stilts, a monkey bridge…. Each takes shapes and vanishes, structures at the service of the acrobats, contortionists, jugglers.
In a global world, my village is what I choose to take with me, fashioning it according to my needs. Làng Tôi is rooted in tradition but has taken flight into contemporary issues of identity, belonging, globalization, métissage. One of the authors very carefully stated that what the 14 artists, along with the orchestra of five musicians, have created is not a new Vietnamese circus; but rather a new circus from Việt Nam.
The three authors of this unique show encapsulate what many of us consider to be the ties between here and there, between người Việt Nam and người Việt hải ngoại, between tradition and modernity. They however do not live a dichotomy, separating one from the other. They have come to the understanding that one does not function against the other but rather in a constant flow of one towards the other. There can be no here if there had never been a there; hải ngoại only exists in relation to an origin; and modernity can only flow from its bedrock of tradition.
For footage of the show: Xiec Lang Toi
Ly Lan Dill was born in Viet Nam, she grew up in the US, and is now a Paris-based translator.
– Credits: Stage Director: Lê Tuân Anh Authors: Nhat Ly Nguyễn, Lê Tuân Anh, Lan Maurice Nguyễn Musical coordination and composition: Nhat Ly Nguyễn Artistic direction: Lan Maurice Nguyễn Choreography: Nguyễn Tan Loc Technical direction and lighting: Dominique Bonvallet Circus artists: Male performers: Cao Xuan Hien, Dinh Anh Tuân, Nguyễn Quang Su, Nguyễn Quang Tho, Nguyễn Duc Truong, Tran Kim Ngoc, Tran Ngoc Dung, Vu Duc Long Female performers: Dinh Thi Loan, Nguyễn Thi Lan Huong, Nguyễn Thi Diem Loan, Nguyễn Thi Hoa, Nguyễn Thanh Huyen, Tran Thanh Hoa Musicians: La Y San, Nguyễn Duc Minh, Nguyễn Minh Chi, Pham Van Doanh, Pham Van Ty Troupe leader: Ta Duy Anh Technical and Lighting manager for the tour: Cyril Le Brozec Stage manager: Fabien Barbot or Guillaume Zemor Sound assistant: Lê Viet Tuân Logistics assistant: Nguyễn Thi Thanh Hai Translator and artistic assistant: Nguyễn Anh Minh Photographer: Nguyễn Phuong
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