Unusual circus returns home to Hanoi

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After touring the world for three years, Lang toi (My village), one of Vietnam's first modern circuses, returns home with a show at the Hanoi Opera House on August 10. Entrance is free. Photo courtesy of Dat Xanh Group

Lang toi (My village), one of Vietnam's first modern circuses, is returning home after touring the world for three years.

The show is more than merely the frenetic acrobatics one associates with a circus, and is based on life in a northern Vietnamese village where people awaken to the crowing of roosters, children jump rope while their parents work in the rice paddies, and peasants smoke bamboo pipes when resting from work.

Also unlike a traditional circus, it does not use animals, and the props are mostly made of bamboo. Performers from the Vietnam Circus Federation use the bamboo as they juggle, contort, do acrobatics, and tumble, Nguyen Van Dung, the head of the troupe, said.

Dressed like farmers, they also demonstrate traditional activities like plowing, irrigating and more.

Original music of various Vietnamese cultures and ethnic groups is the soul of the program, Dung said.

Talking about the idea behind "My village," Le Tuan, one of its directors, said: "We hope that youths, after seeing the show, understand more about the nation's origin, and promote Vietnam's cultural beauty to the world."

The performance attracts repeat audiences due to its creativity, Dung said.

"They said they see something new in each show," he said.

"We walk on a row of bamboo poles held upright to express the hard life. The artists do it differently in each show, sometimes they stagger, sometimes they even fall."

Directed by three overseas Vietnamese artists Le Tuan from Germany, Nguyen Nhat Ly and his brother Nguyen Lan from France "My village" was performed for the first time in August 2005, Dung said.

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It attracted much attention since people had rarely seen a circus performed in such a different manner, with bamboo and folk music, and conveying a specific story.

The initiative was born when the directors came together and mulled over a French-Vietnamese cultural exchange, but ended up developing a new kind of circus based on traditional culture.

It originally featured more than 80 artists besides musicians, though the number has now come down to 14.

Dung said artists have the freedom to express themselves.

With its elegant combination of circus acts, music, and installation, "My village" has won the hearts of foreign audiences ever since it was performed for the first time abroad, at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, in 2009. Since then it has been taken to Belgium, Spain, Australia, Germany and the UK.

Dung said international audiences like the fact they can understand more about Vietnamese culture by watching it. The image of Vietnamese farmers working in rice fields that the shows evoke is an unusual one for them.

It also helps improve the meager earnings of Vietnamese circus performers, Dung said. "[It] brings us US$800-1,000 a month. Despite being increased many times in the past few years, artists at the Vietnam Circus Association get only VND100,000 ($4.7) each night."

In November the circus is scheduled to return to France and Germany before returning to Vietnam in April 2013. Then "My village" would be performed every week possibly in Ha Long, Hanoi, or Ho Chi Minh City, a company spokesperson said.

The show, sponsored by the luxury fashion house Dat Xanh Group, will be held at the Hanoi Opera House on August 10. Admission is free.

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