words wilson fok
10 Tuan Le turns a circus production into a moving picture of country life. Talk about circus performances and you will probably be wide-eyed about fierce animals balancing on their hind legs and jumping through hoops or performers in exaggerated costumes folding their bodies into unrecognizable shapes. But that is not what you will find in Lang Toi, Tuan Le’s circus performance on Vietnamese village life. Here balancing and juggling acts joined by acrobatics make everyday chores and daily rituals as new and exciting as anything you’ll find under a big top. Tuan Le tells bc how his show came about and what it all means to him and his troupe. Tuan Le, a juggler by profession, is not unfamiliar with circus life, as he has toured the world with a variety of circus troupes. Nevertheless, when he turned to creating his own show, he didn’t look for traditional clowns and slim ladies in spangled dresses standing on prancing horses. Another notion entirely caught his imagination – though it turned out to have a 10-year gestation period. ‘The idea for Project Lang Toi was born after a meeting between Nhat Ly and me many years after we first met. At the time, I was performing a show in Paris,’ he says. ‘Ly was a former student of my father – he was learning the trumpet. At our first meeting, I was 8 years old and had just started my career in Vietnam as a juggler. Anyway, many years later in Paris, we talked about setting up a project with Vietnamese performers. Then, in 2000, I wanted to meet Nguyen Lan, a circus professor in France, so I invited him to Berlin to introduce him to myself and a project I was working on at that time: I was creating a vaudeville show with jazz musicians, jugglers and various other artists,’ recalls Le. ‘Then later, in 2003, when I was preparing a new project for the Berlin Cabaret Theatre, Nhat Ly was the sound engineer and together we decided to do a recording in Vietnam for the show. We flew to Vietnam and recorded an album at the Conservatory of Ho Chi Minh City but while we were in Vietnam, on BCMAGAZINE06MAY2010
a visit to the National Circus School in Hanoi, we talked about collaborating in the future with the students there. In no time that led to a proposal for a prospective project together.’ Le and Ly got together with Nguyen Lan and the three of them came up with a concept for a show which they put on paper and duly presented to the circus school. ‘In 2005 we started the project in Hanoi. Unfortunately the school requested more funding than we had to make the project work. The three of us were desperate to get the show on the road but we only had €2,500 sponsorship. We were worried, but went ahead anyway. At the same time, I was looking for a new partner who could support us. Finally, we went to the Vietnam Circus Federation in Hanoi and asked Mr Vu Hop, the director of the circus, to back us. He agreed, but by then time had become very limited. We worked insane hours every day under a concept Nguyen Lan had developed over many years of research. It’s a theory of “learn and play, play and learn” and one he still uses when teaching as a circus professor in France.’ At this point, Le approached a good friend, Nguyen Tan Loc, a choreographer, to take charge of training the 80 performers in the show in basic stage posture and dance movement. ‘Tan Loc gave them lessons each morning, showing them how to use their bodies in the most relaxed and flexible way and teaching them simple dance movements. He did a great job training the artists and also created a very easy atmosphere with them.’ Meanwhile Nhat Ly was sourcing musicians skilled in traditional music. ‘We finally came to the fruit of the entire process – a new circus show we called Lang Toi (My Village). We did six performances of that show, which was essentially similar to but not entirely the same as the circus show presented this year at the Le French May 2010,’ says Le. Although Lang Toi 2005 and Lang Toi 2010 share the same concepts, much has changed in the time between them. The number of performers dropped from 80 to 14 and the musical team was pared
Although Lang Toi 2005 and Lang Toi 2010 share the same concepts, much has changed in the time between them. The number of performers droppe...