Crowds marvel at magicians

VietNamNet Bridge – Late last week I read about an upcoming magic festival in the capital, promising a night of tricks, comedy and circus performances. Intrigued, and with a long holiday weekend to fill, I decided to go along.

Just like that: A magician performs with doves. Viet Nam's magic scene is growing, but has yet to match the popularity the art enjoys in other countries.

I'm very glad I did. What followed was an evening full of surprises; in turns impressive, shambolic, shocking, enormous fun and ultimately as surreal and unexpected as anything I have seen in Viet Nam before (and that is in itself quite some achievement).

Despite the large amount of publicity for the event (with posters and flyers strewn around the city), there were quite a few empty seats (perhaps because of the cold), which is a shame as the event was touted as the chance for young magicians to gain valuable experience by performing in front of a large audience while popularising magic shows in the country.

The event began with a hugely impressive display from the city's circus performers, and it was hard to decide where to look amongst the acrobatics, juggling, pyrotechnics and glitter. It truly was a superb start.

Some momentum was lost immediately afterwards with the obligatory speeches and introduction of the judges (ready to choose their favourite performers of the festival) and special guests. Eventually the talking was over and the magic began.

Some of the young magicians looked a little nervous during their slots, with one visibly having to compose himself after accidentally stepping on a stray dove that refused to land in the planned spot – to the collected gasp of the audience.

A second bird then decided to perch in the crowd, its feathers floating down on to the heads below.

The tricks on show ranged from classic sleight-of-hand, rope tricks and the ever-popular sawing the assistant in half routine. The lack of English didn't matter to me at all throughout the show, as all of the performers understood the importance of showmanship and played well to the audience with all the flourishes, embellishments and emphasised facial expressions required.

Although entertaining and well constructed, some of the performances began to feel slightly repetitive, with (luckier) doves appearing in every conceivable manner until the element of surprise was completely gone. Thankfully, almost as soon as I had this thought the things began to get increasingly varied.

The old adage goes ‘never work with children or animals'. It was defiantly ignored here. Firstly, a box illusion ended with the impressive but extremely bizarre reveal of a young girl in an angel costume dancing.

The animal performances came next. One act in particular caught the imagination of the audience. A well-rounded
man, completely naked but for a loincloth, marched on to the stage, pulling a basket behind him. He opened the lid with a flourish and pulled out two mighty boa constrictors, which he then proceeded to drape around his naked torso while roaring for the crowd's approval. While his performance lacked any semblance of subtlety and consisted of little more than him trudging around holding snakes, he was a charismatic performer and sheer bravado saw him through.

Next up were a number of dogs who had been trained to jump, dance, walk on their hind legs and wave. All this turned out to be a build up to the completely unexpected sight of the dogs running and leaping through hoops while carrying monkeys on their backs. You read that right. It was one of many impressive but questionable animal appearances to feature (more on that later).

Among the cast of human characters to follow were two clowns who provided a dose of physical comedy and the night's biggest laughs by playing tunes on glasses filled with water, and a grinning old-school magician in a shiny suit and a white shirt boasting an enormous collar straight out of the 1970s. He offered the crowd an impressive Houdini act and yet more doves.

With each act taking about ten minutes, the time was flying by with nobody outstaying their welcome.

The first real how did they do that? moment arrived courtesy of an intricate quick change performance by a couple
who raced through costumes at an impossible pace amidst some expertly orchestrated choreography from a group of beautiful dancers.

Finally, the animals returned to surprise once more. This time the performers were a pair of bears, who displayed a variety of tricks, including catching balls and performing acrobatics. Most remarkably, and shockingly, they were then led to two bicycles which they cycled unfalteringly around the ring. As if that wasn't enough, one of the bears was then taken to a Vespa which it had been taught to drive alone in a perfect circle. The crowd gasped and applauded in delight, but I felt more than a little queasy. While undoubtedly a feat of incredible training and imagination, the sight of the bears, muzzled and looking lost, was hard to forget afterwards.

Leaving the show back into the traffic and the chaos of the city, I reflected that Ha Noi can always be trusted to provide an experience to remember. There is no shortage of escapism on offer here, if you are prepared to try new things and take a chance or two.

Viet Nam's magic scene is growing, and more events as entertaining and well put-together as this can only increase the popularity of the art.

As for me, the show served as a reminder that my Viet Nam adventure, now coming to the end of its second year, can still continue to surprise me. Now that is what I call magic.

by Kim Megson

Source: VNS

Vietnam, magic festival, comedy and circus, animal performances