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Soaring between cultures

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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Lang Toi
Calendar, Circus, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Circus: Lang Toi

8 – 17 February @ the Regal Theatre ·
Presented by Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam ·

Bamboo poles sway as contortionists, acrobats and jugglers expertly balance and leap f its daily life as live music, performed by virtuosi musicians, accompanies the action. This is circus at its absolute best!

Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam promises to be the hottest ticket in town when they return to the Regal Theatre. Merging tradition and innovation, Lang Toi uses poetic imagery, folk music and incredible acrobatic skill to create a spellbinding event for the whole family.On stage 15 acrobats and four musicians evoke the daily life of a traditional Vietnamese village. With just a few bits of string, bamboo and bicycle inner-tube, superb moving structures are built and rebuilt before your eyes as you’re transported into the heart of the action in a rice field, at a child’s game, at the market or during a storm.

Experience the beauty of Vietnamese culture in this thrilling theatrical experience that has delighted audiences around the world.

Produced by Lune Production

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Pictured: Lang Toi, credit: Nguyen Duc Minh

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A woman, a man and a bird surrounded by flowers.
Circus, Music, Musical theatre, News, Opera, Performing arts, Theatre

First peek at 2019 Perth Festival

Perth Festival has given us a tantalising glimpse of its 2019 programme, revealing four of the works on the line-up.

Returning to open the Festival will be Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, a nocturnal wonderland that will, once again, light up Kings Park over four nights. This free, outdoor event is a celebration of Noongar culture and the beauty and biodiversity of the South West of WA, that sees audiences take a kaleidoscopic walk through projections, animation, sound and lighting effect along Fraser Avenue and deep into Kings Park.’

Balls of light in a park at night
‘Boorna Waanginy’. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

That weekend will also see two international shows, both Australian exclusives, open in Perth. The first, Lang Toi, by Nouveau Cirque de Vietnam, is a daring display of acrobatics, physical theatre, live traditional music and playful bamboo constructions, that transports the audience into the heart of a Vietnamese village.

an acrobat standing on one hand
A scene from ‘Lang Toi’. Photo: Nguyen Duc Minh.

The second work, The Great Tamer, sees Greece’s Dimitris Papaioannou explore the mysteries of life, death and the beauty of humanity with enigmatic, dreamlike scenes and visual riddles. Using ten performers and a shape-shifting floor that undulates to Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube”, Papaioannou’s magical stagecraft brings to life a series of inventive live paintings.

Last – for now – but not least, flying elephants, gaudy 1920s flappers, comic-book villains, gigantic spiders, butterflies and wolves run rampant as performers interact with animated characters in Barrie Kosky’s exhilarating production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, presented by Kosky’s Komische Oper Berlin, British theatre group 1927 in association with West Australian Opera and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

The full 2019 Perth Festival program will be announced 1 November 2018.

Pictured top is a scene from Komische Oper Berlin’s “The Magic Flute”.

A man throwing seeds over his head
A scene from ‘The Great Tamer’. Photo: Julian Mommert.
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