Folk culture of the past inspires contemporary art

VietNamNet Bridge – The contemporary shows Làng Tôi (My Village), À Ố Show and Ter Dar (Going in Circle) are unique circus performances using bamboo as the main prop. The shows have been performed around the world and captivated audiences in Asia, Europe, America and Australia. À Ố Show recently made its 1,000th performance six years after being launched.

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Director Tuan Le, one of the shows’ creators, is the only Vietnamese to have performed in Canada’s Cique du Soleil as a solo artist. Raised in Germany, he was also the first Asian person to receive the Award of Excellence from the International Jugglers’ Association in 2010.

Du Nguyen interviews Tuan Le about the success of the shows.

Many works are not performed often due to lack of interest from audiences. Why have your shows had long runs not only in Vietnam but also abroad?

Vietnam is a potential market for building art systems, including works and production systems. But it lacks a systematic and professional atmosphere. When I decided to return to work in Vietnam, my crew and I wanted to build a system of professional, logical organisation in terms of business.

Across the world there are similarities in culture and cultural behaviour. Of course, to create a show requires skill. For example, Ter Dar was inspired by the Central Highlands culture but the story does not stop there. It goes further because in many other countries there are tribes and ethnic groups living together with unique cultures.

Ter Dar touches many of the world’s ethnic groups not only Vietnam. If we do not introduce this work from Vietnam no one will know. 

But some people say the show survives depending on the audience. Is this true?

We need to consider art education in Vietnam. Not many children have a chance to learn music and painting. Plus, art education in schools is not focused. This is an extremely important factor to have an artistic generation and audience generation. 

When we cast artists for shows, the artists almost have to learn again. The most difficult thing for an artist is how to break old habits. When the artists perform only what they do, they become machines.

Many say that to have a sold-out performance, artists need to follow popular trends. What do you think about this?

This is a common problem across the world, not only in Vietnam. However, in other countries, besides the new cultural trends, they protect the traditional culture very well. Last year, we had a tour in Japan and I saw their plays were very traditional and theatres are filled with people. Actors perform from morning to evening.

Many people buy tickets to watch the shows all day. That’s because they know how to preserve their traditional culture. The treasure of traditional culture and folklore of Vietnam is very plentiful, but its value hasn’t been effectively brought into play.

I also do not understand why we do have to wait for UNESCO to recognise folk performances before we begin to preserve and develop them. It is our culture and our business.

How do you assess Vietnamese cultural treasures?

We have not yet determined exactly what we will do. But when we start a project we see that Vietnamese culture has so many things that can be exploited for creativity. Culture in the north, the central, the south and the Central Highlands is diversified. We need people who really want to create art based on folk culture.

But the strange thing is, when you haven’t done it, you don’t see anyone saying anything. But when you make it they say that nothing is new and people have been doing it for a long time.

I hope the projects we do can create some positive influence and resonance aiming to have more people to perform and to have more interesting works.

Vietnamese folk culture has many things that inspire art creativity. Why do you use bamboo for several shows?

For me, aesthetically, the image of bamboo is so beautiful. It can both be hard and flexible. Bamboo became the main prop in our shows. In the year 2000, for the first time I returned to the homeland. I wandered through villages from north to south of the country just seeing nature and people. It moved me and I wanted to work in the homeland.

Làng Tôi is the first of my works. Like a slow-motion picture, Làng Tôi resurrects the childhood memories as well as the image of the country through the eyes of a child. After Làng Tôi, along with my crew I continued with À Ố Show - bamboo circus combining music featuring a story from the village to the town. 

Source: VNS

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