Reviews/Circus/Perth Festival

Soaring between cultures

9 February 2019

Perth Festival review: Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam, Lang Toi ·
Regal Theatre, February 8 ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

How do you fare on rollercoasters? I can barely watch, much less participate. This was the feeling I had during Lang Toi as a lithe creature, suspended from the ceiling with silks wrapped around an immense pole of bamboo, cavorted and twisted her body 20 feet in the air. Aided by the power of momentum (and some muscular help from below), she swung around in ever-quickening circles until she was soaring high above the audience, cool as the proverbial cucumber. I had to look away.

Lang Toi is perhaps the definitive show from Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam, a contemporary circus troupe based in Hanoi and one of Vietnam’s most recognisable cultural exports. Created by Tuan Le, Nguyen Nhat Ly and Nguyen Lan Maurice, Lang Toi is a transfixing blend of European circus arts and traditional Vietnamese songs and music. It is a slower paced affair than most modern circus fodder – if you come expecting the sort of relentless gasping provoked by the likes of Cirque du Soleil you’ll be disappointed. While there’s plenty of jaw-dropping action, Lang Toi is a more meditative work, fusing high-energy acrobatics with more reflective Vietnamese cultural traditions.

Reflecting the natural rhythm of a rural Vietnamese village, the show follows the contours of a typical day. We are greeted by cocks crowing as the players create their evocative set before our eyes. Softly lit in amber, the set is almost entirely composed of huge bamboo poles which are arranged into a myriad of configurations – bound with ropes, sometimes anchored by the humans below. Watching each set form is part of the delight of the show, with the players’ movement sure and focused but with a joyful ease that allows the audience to relax into the experience. These people know what they’re doing.

There are 15 players and all are excellent, with a few particular standouts. The impish Cao Xuan Hien drew more gasps from the crowd than any other player, likely because of her alarming capacity to contort her body. In one move, as she is atop a deftly assembled support structure comprised of bulkier humans, Cao moves her leg over her head in a movement that seemed completely alien.  “I’m sure she has no bones!” my young companion whispered.

Another memorable phrase came courtesy of the group’s jesters – three young men perched towards the front of the stage: See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil. Masquerading as deities, these three quickly transform into the clowns they are, executing a convoluted juggling routine that morphs into a beat-filled celebration of rhythm.

These antics are interspersed with traditional Vietnamese music, provided live onstage by Le Duy, Nguyen Minh Chi, Pham Van Doanh and Pham Van Ty. The musicianship was just as skilled as the contortions on centre stage and provided extended breathing space between feats. As with several shows I’ve seen recently at The Regal, the sound was a little too loud (I noticed several junior audience members with their hands over their ears).

The show’s rhythm slows noticeably towards the end and while a more traditional circus experience would have likely ended on a snappier note, it made a pleasant change to be lulled to sleep by the sight of hammocks onstage. Just as I was drifting off a very spirited encore broke out, culminating in the troupe running through the audience out into the foyer for another ten minutes of joyful drumming. The audience spilled out into the warm night, beaming.

Lang Toi is playing at the Regal Theatre Feb 9, 10 and 12-17.

Pictured top: Gravity defying – Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam dazzle. Photo: Nguyen Anh Phuong.


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Author —
Varnya Bromilow

Varnya Bromilow is a happy dilettante who has worked as a journalist, advocate, oral historian, teacher and train driver. She spent 15 years with the ABC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and The West Australian and enjoys writing fiction. She loves guinea pigs and the thrill of a good slide.

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