A O Lang Pho – Civic Theatre March 15, 2018

More 13th Floor Auckland Arts Festival coverage… here is Yoson An with his take on A O Lang Pho…

There is a new circus in town-  new in spirit, as well as in name : the Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam . Their signature aesthetic is bamboo,  along with the woven basket , and these objects take on their own spellbinding beauty of form and character in a show that contrasts traditional Vietnamese agricultural society with the modern bustle and noise of 21st Century Vietnam.

The first thing I noticed as I sat down was the sound of waves, pulling my attention towards the stage.

Auckland’s Civic Theatre is as beautiful as always, and on its stage is a starry- lit night simulation, making me feel as if I am close to the beach, while those ubiquitous bamboo sticks and baskets created a link with southeast Asian scenery. The baskets deserve a special mention: I loved the way they  were used in myriad ways, morphing from being animals, to little boats, to even steering wheels in a car. Imagination is king in this show.

The show started gently, yet powerfully,  with incredible dancers and acrobats performing difficult movements and dangerous stunts, demanding edge-of-the-seat attention from its audience throughout  the show.

To enhance the vibrant performance, there is live music with flawless beats. The overall impression from the start, is that the whole ensemble is giving their all.

I quickly felt drawn in to the characters they portrayed within the minimalist scenery which used the effectively- simple props of  bamboo sticks and various-sized baskets. The sticks were used to create new scenes with a swift efficiency.

The acrobatic synchronicity of each of the characters with each other, along with their use of physical comedy, painted the story brilliantly. It’s a story of Vietnamese culture in transition and it’s told through 15 acrobats and 5 musicians. I especially loved the ways the acrobats looked to engage with the audience directly- such as by clapping their feet together while high up in dangerous stunt positions, to create a joyous tension and much laughter in the theatre.

The storytelling starts off in the countryside and is contrasted with the cosmopolitan way of life half way through. The country people were connected. Dressed similarly, it’s clear their way of life was simple and communal, and filled with love and joy. The cosmopolitan way of life began with everyone constructing buildings together, then into chaotic traffic depicted in a synchronistic acrobatic manner. Even through the busy-ness, there was an underlying connectedness. However, there is soon a pervasive sense of individuality filtering in. Everyone wants to stand out,  and a sense of pleasure -seeking overtakes the characters – sex, night clubs, parties.

The dangerous acrobatics and comedy persisted throughout the cosmopolitan scenes and were used to big effect to highlight the crazy things we humans do, especially the chaos we create for ourselves. At one point, the performers used a frisbee to effectively depict the need to avoid dangers in the city.

Costume colours played a big part also in presenting the idea of individuality in city life. People started to form their own groups, unlike the communal life of the countryside. Yet even so, underneath all the chaos and self-seeking, their cultural sense of community is still there. This idea leaks into the cosmopolitan ethos when a woman rides a bike around the stage asking if people need water, and patently caring for others.

The city life transitioned beautifully to a one man cyr wheel dance. It serves as a metaphor for the beauty of the simple life in Vietnam. One of the acrobats also performed a beautiful solo of a traditional Vietnamese song. Without all the noise and distraction, this gentle stillness shows where real heart- to- heart connection lies.

After generous applause, the group came back with a drumming encore and left the stage with a run through the theatre, greeting gleeful audience members as they exited.

The show ended finally with a touch of comedy with musicians finally coming out of the hut where they had lodged throughout, and indicating that it was their time to shine, but seeming to suddenly realise the show had finished.

The audience appreciated this final touch of comedy as much as they had eagerly lapped up the show itself. It’s a joyous family show and all ages will feel energised and satisfied with this very visual and skilful piece.

Yoson An  

Recommended for audiences from 6 up, and running time of 70 minutes.

At The Civic until Sunday 18 March 2018 , with two matinees ( Saturday and Sunday)