Some may say that modern performance art in Vietnam looks the way it does thanks to the works of Tuan Le and his colleagues. Almost two decades into a series of smashing theatrical successes across the country, Le invites Saigoneer into the creative power behind AO, Teh Dar, and Lang Toi.
About 17 years ago, Le decided to turn his career on its head.
Raised in Germany and Vietnamese by birth, he had found success as a performing artist. In Paris, he’d been performing in the well-regarded Cirque D’Hiver. In Germany, he created his own show, starring a Vietnamese émigré at odds with the European city. In an unforgiving industry, things were going well.
But Le’s return to Vietnam, alongside colleagues Lan Maurice and Nguyen Nhat Ly, has since re-defined theatrical arts in the country. Their crowning work, the AO Show, is now in its sixth consecutive year. Their company, Lune Production, has become a national darling, producing success after success and essentially taking up permanent residence in the opera houses of both Saigon and Hanoi.
As Lune Production’s creative director, Le has found a winning recipe. Beginning with a traditional Vietnamese ethnic group as subject matter, Le and his colleagues infuse their shows with dancing, circus acrobatics, songs and regional musical instruments, allowing his ensembles — composed of both professionals and members of the relevant ethnic groups — to run wild with their characters.
The result is non-traditional and often spellbinding. His shows, like AO, are laden with personality. Audiences witness tender moments between lovers in the Saigon streetlight, interrupted by an upstairs neighbor ejecting wastewater out the window. AO whirs through the agricultural history of the Mekong Delta before focusing on familiar people in the city.
By contrast, Le’s most recent show, Teh Dar, exists in a world of its own that is unrecognizable to most show-goers. Taking the Central Highlands as its subject matter, language, costumes and tradition combine for an in-your-face effect. Quite literally, flying stunts that feature bamboo poles nearly reach the audience, and a dream-like siren song in the K’ho language pulls viewers’ attention into the reeds on stage.
More than in name, Lune Production seems to have become a substantial echo to the west’s Cirque-du-Soleil. The performance company even has a theater of its own in Hoi An. The bamboo dome by the iconic city’s river rivals that of the Cirque D’Hiver in Paris, where Le once performed. Outside of it, Saigoneer sat down with Le before that evening’s performance of AO.
Read the complete interview on Saigoneer.
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