Every Sunday, Dao ethnic children from Vu Linh Commune in the northern province of Yen Bai gather at the La Vie Vu Linh Ecolodge to enjoy performances by French clowns.
|Be Clown performs in front of the students in Vietnam. — Photo courtesy of the company
The children also interact with the clowns, who are members of a French troupe called the Be Clown Company.
With the goal of performing around the world, Be Clown Company has created shows for all ages that integrate a circus setting, clowns, and theatre techniques, through performances by several artists.
As part of the company’s tour through Asian countries, the artists stayed at La Vie Vu Linh for one year to perform for local audiences. There, they found inspiration for many circus acts.
The troupe of 12 clowns did not perform only on theatre stages, but also in schoolyards, hospitals, institutes, and cafes, They have also performed in an ethnic village wasteland, an orphanage, and during a grand ceremony on the occasion of 45 years of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and France. Their audiences included rural and urban residents, expatriates, orphans, and tourists.
They have slept in a small, unassuming guest houses, on roadsides, in a tuk tuk, and in buses.
For them, Vu Linh, the small village which can be reached via small paths of orange clay amid harvested and wet rice fields while crossing paths with a few buffaloes and some scooters, has become a familiar and beloved home.
“Our wish is to meet people who live in remote places to offer them a moment of art and magic," Charly Lanthiez, co-ordinator of the troupe, said.The contemporary circus show Becalmed is among the Be Clown Company’s fruits of labour during their residency in Vu Linh Commune.
Based on contemporary circus techniques, the show takes audiences to a surreal realm through performances by clowns, live music, and popular circus practices.
Becalmed is a journey on a boat, both motionless and hectic, that aims to make both young and old spectators laugh, smile, and cry.
Vu Linh is a mountainous commune so performing together on a plateau is a challenge for them, Lanthiez said.
“To allow the group to connect and find a common energy, I bring the work of the choir, then we listen, breathe together, move, speed, pitch, sing, and dance, a demanding job that requires a lot of concentration,” he said.
The troupe makes its own costumes and props. Designer Pauline is in charge of this work. She often has nose bent over a book, with her hand holding a brush or a small black felt. She hangs out in the small theatre where she scribbles, asks the artists to the tray, and listens to their stories carefully, taking into account the technical constraints of their Circassian practice or the personality of the clown.
Pauling also cites Vu Linh Village as a source of inspiration for her designs. Fishing nets, shrimp baskets, and a rigid buoy all form part of the Be Clown Company’s circus act.
During a performance at an infant oncology department in Da Nang City, Francis, one of the troupe’s actors, met very sick children. Afraid that he might tear up and become too emotional during the show, he told Lanthiez that he might not be able to perform. However, he was able to do his part well the next day.
“It would be stupid to miss this experience to perform for them, and bring them joy,” Francis said.
|The artists travel on a raft in the northern province of Yen Bai. — Photo courtesy of the company
Life around us
Lanthiez said the troupe was very lucky to stay in Vietnam on the occasion of the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday of the year.
“In recent days, we were told that it was difficult to procure food, and people are less and less available,” he said.
However, during the holiday, they saw flowers, fruits, and cakes on the road, which was lined for kilometres with colourful flags. In town, scooters came from all directions, with huge branches of peach flowers or small pots with citrus trees. Restaurants, shops, and museums were closed, and buses did not operate.
During their time in Vietnam, they had a chance to perform in many provinces. They travelled to many places and discovered how ordinary people lived their lives.
One interesting thing about Vietnamese people is the sport of awakening, Lanthiez said.
“In the street, they are active and do exercises,” he said. “Sellers do it in front of their shops. People do morning exercises on pavements and in the parks, all with an impassive face.”
“At six o’cloc, the bikes start to put on their enormous loads and the horns resume their symphony, Lanthiez said. “No trace of the morning session. The people regain their calm and tranquility.”
“It’s impossible to know that everyone just made all those little daily efforts,” he said.
The little things about Vietnam impressed the artists immensely and they always find endless energy and inspiration whenever they talk about this country.VNS