À O LÀNG PHO VIETNAMESE CIRCUS | It shows Vietnam 'exactly as it is'

Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam presents À O Làng Pho circus in its Sydney debut at the Opera House this week, Wednesday to Saturday. It's designed to be a beautiful, spectacular presentation of Vietnamese culture, following the evolution of a quiet village into a bustling metropolis, told with acrobatic stunts, breakdancing and props. Director Tuan Le choreographed for Cirque du Soleil, including Toruk, an adaptation of Avatar. His first job was juggling, at 7, for Ho Chi Minh City Circus. In À O Làng Pho he gives us a nostalgic view of his country, showing how agricultural Vietnam has been urbanised. À O Làng Pho (or "from village to city") is a family-friendly show mixing traditional circus with Vietnam's complex culture and set to a contemporary score, of eastern sounds, beat-box and hip-hop. I did this interview with Tuan Le who was in Vietnam, just before he left for Sydney.

INTERVIEW

How will À O Làng Pho represent Vietnamese culture? Will it focus on traditional Vietnamese culture or the culture of modern Vietnam, or a combination? And in which region of the country is it set? The traditions of Vietnamese culture have provided the foundation for the creative inspiration, and the motivation, to create the imaginative and artistic world of À O Làng Pho. The show mirrors all facets of the Vietnamese culture and the country. The show describes the feelings and the emotions of life as it's lived in that particular location -- the South.

What does the title mean in English? À = Làng and O = Pho. It means "from the village to the city and from the city back to the village".

It's called a "contemporary circus production which subverts the extravagance of traditional circus" -- what does that mean? À O Làng Pho is a new artistic creation, which continues the development of Vietnamese bamboo circus as a genre. We devised this concept a decade ago to create an identity for circus specifically in Vietnam.

It shows Vietnam just as it is. I honestly don't know if that's good or not. I'd like the audience, especially Vietnamese people, to be aware of the changes. I still really enjoy peaceful village life, it always inspires me.

TUAN LE, Director

Circus appeals to everybody, but what will especially appeal to people of Vietnamese origin? And will non-Vietnamese people enjoy it as much as Vietnamese? The show has no barriers in terms of languages. It's an international show that represents the aesthetic of Vietnam with emotional and artistic languages that we want everyone to feel and to enjoy, rather than be limited to verbal and spoken language.

It's hard to avoid influence by other cultures as the world grows smaller. Especially influence from the West, which is driven by huge commercial drivers. That may not necessarily be a bad thing but how do you as a director control these influences and keep your production "pure"? The show definitely has some parts that show those Western influences but I think that's the desire of a younger generation, that wants to be up to date and current. On the other hand, I think it does mean that old traditions are important and shouldn't be forgotten.

Describe the range of circus acts? The cast performs a mix of collaborative and ensemble works which feature juggling, acrobatics, music and comedy.

Where were you born? How long have you lived in Vietnam? Why do you choose to live, and work, in Vietnam? I was born in an artistic family in Saigon. I left Vietnam when I was a teenager. For me it was not about returning to Vietnam but I visited a place that I believed had the potential for developing artistic projects that give young generations a sense of hope and belief. That's how the arts can deliver a positive message to the whole world.

How long have you been a performer yourself? I did perform for 30 years in many aspects of the performing arts, and mostly in the circus.

How long were you with Cirque du Soleil? What were the highlights of that for you? I joined Cirque du Soleil about 10 years ago, first as a solo artist and then I was invited back to be a co-creator for a show with the company.

What influence has Cirque du Soleil had on the rest of the industry? Cirque du Soleil is one of the leading artistic companies of the world and they brought circus into a completely different level.

When you travelled with Cirque du Soleil what cultural differences to your life in Vietnam were you most aware of? As I was working as an artist, I had the privilege to travel around the world and especially to meet a lot of amazing artists, while working and living with them in many different places. That gave me a lot of interesting perspectives about people, indeed all of humanity, and also the professional world.

The change from a predominantly agricultural life in the face of urbanisation would seem inevitable. But is this good or bad, or in between? There would be many senior Vietnamese in South-West Sydney who dream of a life back home that maybe does not exist any more, perhaps? How will this production affect them? Does it show that Vietnam has irrevocably changed? And for the good, or maybe not? À O Làng Pho shows the country exactly as it is. I honestly don't know if that's good or not. I'd like the audience, especially Vietnamese people, to be aware of the changes nowadays in Vietnam. Personally, I still really enjoy the peaceful village life and the amazing nature of Vietnam, which always gives me a lot of inspiration when creating an artistic production.

Above all, what do you want audiences to take away from the show? Please come to the Sydney Opera House and sit back, let everything go, enter into a world of imagination with À O Làng Pho and I'm sure you'll find something that'll give you motivation, or inspiration, that'll stay with you after you've seen the show. And if you're lucky you'll find something interesting, that you've never discovered before. We're more than thrilled to be at the Sydney Opera House. Thank you.

  • À O Làng Pho showtimes: Wednesday, June 12, 7pm; Thursday, June 13, 11am (schools) and 7pm; Friday, June 14, 7pm; Saturday, June 15, 2pm and 7pm. In the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House.

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