In the words of Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam director Tuan Le, the word ‘A O’ is derived from ‘Lang Pho’, which loosely means ‘Village and City’. At its heart, this is the premise of A O Lang Pho – it’s leading character is a Vietnamese identity, made up of many voices and many bodies that form the shifting mosaic of a place. A O Lang Pho is dynamic and humorous, full of joy but dashed with moments of passion and solemnity that makes its ode to cultural essence truly reverberate in the soul.
A O Lang Pho tells the story of a Vietnamese village as it is altered with progress and modernity over time. As the show proceeds, the set changes from a sleepy riverside village to a bustling city under a softly moonlit sky. Majority of the props used in the performance are made from bamboo and rattan, and are either functional or a modification of the tools used commonly used by farmers and fisherman in Vietnam.
Part of the pleasure of viewing is watching the performers seamlessly construct, deconstruct and rearrange their own set. The lighting of the show is also remarkably clever and adaptable, managing to beautifully illuminate the shape of the artists in warm light, complementing rather than distracting from the emotion of the work. The entire performance is also accompanied by a mesmerising sequence of live ‘Cai luong’ music, performed by musicians who are as much a part of the on-stage story as the acrobats.
Arguably the most superb aspect of A O Lang Pho is that while the acrobatics and choreography is fluid, inspiring and thrilling – the performers from Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam approach them with the most infectious energy and joie de vivre.
Some of the most poignant moments are emotional juxtapositions – a street scene in which the inhabitants of apartments are briefly illuminated as they play, argue, and fall in love, feels full of adoration for the bustle of contemporary Vietnam.
It is followed by a graceful solo act, in which a single performer in a Cyr wheel (built to look like a broken rattan basket) whirls across the emptied street, reconnecting us with the poignancy of the object that plays such significant role in the opening acts.
Although A O Lang Pho is about mapping and exploring the cultural shifts of Vietnamese life, it’s constant is always its people – and it articulates this strength of identity with the utmost grace and poise.
A O Lang Pho
The Regal Theatre, 474 Hay St, Subiaco (Perth)
Performance: Friday 17 February 2017 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 25 February 2017
Information and Bookings: www.perthfestival.com.au
Image: A O Lang Pho – photo by Nguyen the Duong
Review: Heather Blakey