|The two leads sing while flying. (Photo: Vietnam Circus Federation)
Audience to “The Magic Stick” was thrilled when the male lead swung on a trapeze with the female lead in his arms as the two sang an acrobatic duet. Such acrobatics are commonplace in the circus, but when combined with “cải lương” or “reformed opera” singing, it wowed the audience. “The Magic Stick” tells the story of love at first sight between a princess named Tiên Dung and Chử Đồng Tử, one of the four immortals of Vietnamese mythology, who teaches people how to turn activities like fishing and weaving into a prosperous business. 100 circus and “reformed opera” artists rehearsed half a year for the 2-hour show.
People’s Artist Thắng has spent his whole life performing circus acts around the world. He has seen operas and musical theater adapt new musical genres to produce exciting and innovative new art. This inspired Thang to try to reform the Vietnamese circus. A collaboration between the Vietnam Circus Federation and the Vietnam National Reformed Opera Theatre seemed like a promising way to start. Four reformed opera -circus performances, honoring the four Vietnamese immortals, will comprise a project called “Vietnamese mythical history”, of which “The Magic Stick” is the first installment. “Reformed opera” creates the narrative of each show, enlivened by circus elements such as acrobatics, animal acts, and fire dances.
“The show is performed on a round stage at the Hanoi Central Circus. Another version designed for a rectangular stage will debut at the Hanoi Opera House and other venues across Vietnam after the Lunar New Year. One of our stops is Chử Xá, the home village of Chử Đồng Tử. The show is aimed at everyone, young and old, Vietnamese and foreigners. We will display an English description of the show on a large onstage screen while the artists are performing. ‘The Magic Stick’ will run until January 2, then we’ll take a break and reopen on Valentine Day in honor of love,” said Thắng.
Thắng admitted that the circus has been struggling to compete with the many online entertainments available. That’s why a fresh approach, combining two respected genres, was called for.
|A character of “The Magic Stick” dances to rap music. (Photo: Vietnam Circus Federation)
In addition to circus and “reformed opera”, “The Magic Stick” also features rap and contemporary dance, though just little. That’s why Thang said it’s for everyone. People who read the tale of Chử Đồng Tử and Tiên Dung at school and quickly forgot it will now see the story acted out in an exciting way, and they’ll remember.
Circus performance is now supported by modern technology but highly-trained artists are still the key. They just need to adapt to modern tastes.
Thắng elaborated, “The circus used to be a compilation of unconnected performances. The audience was thrilled when the artists successfully performed a dangerous act, but now the artists are characters in a story which requires them to combine their circus skills with acting, singing, and dancing.”
The Vietnam Circus Federation has been training artists to compete internationally. They have won top prizes for their circus skills while delivering performances that embody and promote Vietnamese culture.
Thắng said, “At the 2019 International Circus Festival in Hanoi, the ‘Lotus Swing’ won the top prize for the best director. Taking inspiration from the lotus, Vietnam’s national flower, four female artists performed acrobatics and 20 accompanying artists danced on the ground, depicting lotus flowers rising up from the swamp and spreading their fragrance. The most striking effect was the ending when two artists used their teeth to suspend the other two artists, who held onto each other by their hair.”
|The ending pose of "Lotus Swing" (Photo: Vietnam Circus Federation)
The “Vietnamese mythical history” project will continue with the stories of Princess Liễu Hạnh, the leading Mother Goddess of Vietnam; Sơn Tinh and Thủy Tinh, the mountain god and the water god; and Saint Gióng, a symbol of the Vietnamese people’s patriotic spirit.