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Interview with Director Tuan Le: Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam

Tuan Le
By Carol Dance

The world-renowned Vietnamese Circus, directed by Tuan Le, conquered the Sydney Opera House last week. With only five shows, and packed houses, next time they must stay longer! I loved the show. There were enthusiastic standing ovations. There were tears from older Vietnamese in the audience as they recalled the joys of village life and the lilting lullabies played by the five musicians. There were gasps of surprise as bamboo poles were flipped from one side of the space to the other by 15 acrobats. There was delight at watching the mesmerising twists and turns of long flexible toes that seemed to have a life of their own.

The 600 primary school students who attended a matinee performance came by way of a partnership between the Opera House’s Contemporary Performance team and the Children, Families and Creative Learning team. This was a dedicated schools performance that was live streamed to primary and secondary school students across Australia and Asia. The performance was completely sold out with over 1000 students attending in total.

Without the glitz and flashy costumes of Cirque du Soleil, it is a refreshing performance with the precision, imagination and joyfulness that is rare to the Sydney scene.

The Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam has performed at the Perth Festival to fabulous reviews. It has been acclaimed around the world.

There should be another word for this show. It’s more than ‘circus’. It’s more than live music, acrobatics, beat boxing and story-telling. It’s a visual feast with subtleties that embed in the heart, embrace the brain and beguile the spirit.

Tuan Le

Director Tuan Le was kind enough to reply to my interview questions. His optimistic view of life, circus and Vietnam is clear:

Tuan Le, is there anything you would like to say to the some 225,000 people of Vietnamese decent living Australia?

Please be proud of our origin. I was very happy that over 600 primary school students could attend one of our shows which we presented in the afternoon at the Sydney Opera House. I hope the young generation of Vietnamese people in Australia can contribute their talents and knowledge to share with the amazing cities of Australia.

I came to the performance last night with Vietnamese friends in their 60s. They thought the show had particularly Vietnamese humour that the rest of us didn’t quite understand. Do you think there was some humour in the show that older Vietnamese would grasp that others didn’t?

I think it’s about a recap of some of the life situations in Vietnam, so it’s not about understanding but more for the audience to feel the emotions and images experienced by the peoples from Vietnam.

We have a small group of strident Vietnamese diaspora in Australia. Ten years ago, a Vietnamese performance at the Sydney Town Hall was forced to close because of a blockade staged by local Vietnamese. Then last night the ‘world renowned Vietnamese circus’ conquered the Sydney Opera House with not one little protest from anyone (I’ve just checked the local Vietnamese newspapers). The world is moving on from the trials of the past. You are quoted in the program as saying “I think the circus allows us to break borders”. Would you like to expand on that thought?

Circus is a tool that allows us to combine music and scenography to create an artistic scenario. It means that the audience can enter into a “world” of our artistic imagination. I was born after the war was over but rather than going to a political debate, I want to create Arts that will be a bridge to the world and for everybody to feel connected, and not just Vietnamese people.

Tuan Le

You returned to Vietnam after many years away. Was it a difficult transition or did you feel ‘at home’ quickly?

I did not return to Vietnam to find something that I had been missing. I was going to a place where I believed I could feel inspired by an artistic environment. I thought that we could take inspiration from the traditions of Vietnam to create a new artistic genre that is informed by my international experience.

You were a performer and director at Cirque du Soleil (and elsewhere) yet Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam is so refreshingly different. I much prefer your style. Do you find it an advantage or disadvantage to inevitably be compared with Cirque du Soleil?

Cirque du Soleil is a company that brought circus Arts to a very different level and created new perspectives.  It’s very common that our productions are compared with Cirque du Soleil because we are focused on the same genre. The difference is that we get inspiration from particular areas and locations of the Vietnamese land to create artistic projects. We focus more on the personalities of our performers to build their character. It’s a direction towards defining ethnicity.

Tuan Le

Also by Carol:

Contemporary Vietnamese Arts and Culture

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