Back from its pandemic hiatus, the performance spectacles of Lune Production once again see acrobatic action!
In what could only be described as a mind numbing two-year long stagnation full of #netflixandchill and homogeneous fanfare of Hallyu soaps looped playlists, we are grateful for curtains up at the Saigon Opera House this year, featuring the original A O Show and Teh Dar.
Since its first run in 2013, the A O Show, has received much fanfare here and internationally and has been applauded and recognised for showcasing Vietnamese culture in both the traditional and modern contexts.
Last March, we took in the highly anticipated comeback performance of Teh Dar at the city’s cultural relic.
In this SPOILER-FREE review of Teh Dar, The Bureau Team compare notes and share with each other some of the show’s outstanding acts and overall take-aways from the one-hour performance featuring the life of the Southwestern Highland peoples of Vietnam interpreted in cirque, traditional song, music and dance.
As for everything else, you will have to go and see it for yourself!
Matt: I didn’t really have that many expectations about the show. I’d heard about the A O Show, I didn’t even realise it was Teh Dar, that’s how much I looked into it. But I’d been to the website, looked at a few things. They obviously don’t give away too much information about it. There’s some nice photos of the performance. I’ve been to the Opera House before, obviously. I was looking at it from a practical perspective. It was not a far drive, parking lot next to the building, and it was Friday night early evening, so it was hassle free. And we just waited around, you can stand out on the balcony before they call you in. But, no airs and graces. I really had no expectations and I had an open mind to it, because I thought it was time to see it since it’s been on for 10 years. Overall, my first impression, when it started… I was blown away!
Mel: My first impressions started when I was communicating with the marketing team and they were very professional and prompt in getting complimentary tickets for this review. The decorations of the Opera House were very tasteful and on-point, nothing too much. Great for photos with very accommodating receptionists to help you take them. The welcome drinks were a nice touch that helped set-up the ambiance. There were options for free pandan tea, lemongrass, peach, and if you wanted a cocktail or a wine it was from VND60,000 to VND150,000 a glass.
The aah! & ooh! highlights
Matt: Obviously you had to go with that very first act where you just don’t expect it!
Mel: I agree!
Matt: It consists of all those elements of theatre, circus, acrobatics, and culture. And the sheer athleticism, strength and creativity using very simple props and materials that are omnipresent in Vietnam, not just in that first act but throughout the show. I didn’t know where to look. The first act, don’t be late!
Mel: My favourite highlight was the part with the *SPOILER* coming from the *SPOILER* at the penultimate act. This show did not shy from controversy. You would think that watching a “cultural” performance would be the usual young maidens dancing, people fishing and farming. If you’ve come to see Teh Dar and expect the usual farming and seafaring scenery you’re in for a surprise. It’s something really unexpected.
Matt: Yeah, there was a lot of sexual tension, put it that way, probably.
Mel: It’s not just sexual tension though. It’s very realistic.
Matt: Birth and rebirth.
Mel: Nature, running its course. And in that particular sequence it was very powerful and raw.
Matt: Yeah, raw is a good word. Primal! Drum beats. So if you’re human, there’s gotta be something primal about you being human.
Mel: Drum beats replicate your heart.
Matt: It’s in all cultures. And so they use that and dramatically enhance it.
The Wow! Zone
Mel: I really like the use of bamboo, it’s the main tool as a soft or hard wood contraption, it was a centrepiece. But what impressed me was the connection between dance, acrobatics and the physics of the bamboo props and the humans. I didn’t think that physics can be applied and appreciated outside of mathematical research, a classroom environment or in the construction of rockets. For me, it was — how does that work? I was impressed with the underlying physics of it all. For me, that was amazing.
Matt: Yes, and in a very small space.
Mel: But I didn’t get the point of the mask props though. Yin and yang? There was a shaman?
Matt: Yeah, it might represent the good and bad. But also as a defence mechanism in nature. There are insects like butterflies with eyes. So maybe it was their way to have a 360° view of everything in nature.
Mel: Yes, the props were a key element, which makes the music and the lighting a bit secondary to everything.
Matt: First, I didn’t know where to look, there was so much happening, which was great. There was rarely a dull moment. And there was probably one kind of moment where I thought — Look out! Ok, all the theatrics are done. Here we go with the ramming down of the cultural aspect of the story. Sometimes you can get overwhelmed with cultural performances, they jam it down your throat, and a lot of traditional sort of stuff. Which I wasn’t really looking forward to, because you get immersed in this story, well, I really didn’t know what the story was trying to tell me to be honest.
Mel: Me too!
Matt: So I would say, I didn’t know where to look. There were things happening all the time. The bit where it died down, I understood because the first 30 minutes was so explosive, they actually needed a rest. It’s a physically demanding show.
Mel: It was actually for practicality.
Matt: You don’t have to know (the story) to enjoy it. I’m sure it would probably be more enriching if you knew the story, and was able to find out more. But, that delicate balancing act (pun intended) where you don’t want to tell people too much, but they need to tell people a little bit. But in actual fact, you can just go along, grab a ticket and just have an amazing hour.
Critics’ notes, parting thoughts
Mel: We wouldn’t be doing our followers justice if we didn’t have a few notes on the production. So, tying into what you said earlier about having parts of the show where the performers and the audience needed a breather they inserted the more mellow —
Matt: Some ladies singing….
Mel: Yeah, so at the start they already broke the fourth wall by involving the audience. I just wished during the more romantic, emotive interludes the singers and musicians interacted or had more eye contact with us.
Matt: Well, I think you wanted more audience interaction whereas I didn’t. Because I was kind of viewing it as though we had this special window into this thing that usually happened every Friday night in their culture.
Mel: Or a flashback to the olden times.
Matt: I felt that they didn’t owe us anything. I felt it was more, we had this kind of privileged opportunity, a window to see how this kind of culture was born. The origins of this culture. And there wasn’t any preaching. I think it was open to your interpretation. So on one hand I was like, I don’t really know what they are trying to say. But it’s open to my interpretation. And they didn’t ram it down your throat. It was beautiful, it was probably a bit sad at times.
Mel: But it’s reality though. Because if you are talking about an ancient tribal culture, the reality is that the existing culture is no longer in its pure form and what we see on stage is heightened, or imagined. But what I really like about this show is it was not idealised. Even the sad bits and the tension, and the ups and downs.
Matt: Thinking of it now, the sad bit for me, is how as a Westerner it drove home to me how disconnected most of us are from the very thing that sustains us. Whereas this culture, nature, Mother Earth, and the heavens or whatever. It struck me how disconnected, unattached Westerners have become. And then you look at these guys and they are so connected. And their props were natural and adapted in order to perform. That’s what I also liked about it. They didn’t change sets all the time.
Mel: Although what we didn’t see from our seats, something I watched on YouTube in the show notes, they were talking about a circular red carpet with hand and foot prints to symbolise the title of the show, which literally means “going in circle” in K’ho tongue, a local tribal dialect.
Matt: The only thing I would change is, and it would be changed really easily…there was a really, really primal moment, and there was a woman who they swung through to the audience, and she was spread-eagled. And unfortunately for me, she kind of smiled and she was waiting for the audience to applaud. Whereas for me, she should have been more Amazonian and like, Yeah! And because it was so intense, drum beats, and she was bending in all sorts of ways and then she softened at that moment. It was just a moment. They were clearly sending a message displaying what their culture was like. So I didn’t expect them to give me anything. They were performing and it was up to me to interpret it. But I’m being picky. It’s hair-raising!
Mel: Overall, would you recommend it?
Matt: Oh, 100%! Especially given there is so little like it. It’s brilliant. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen in Vietnam.
Mel: Yeah! 5-Stars. I saw the A O Show when it opened. I can’t remember the show itself, but I do remember how I felt watching it. And I’m sure if you ask me again five years from now about Teh Dar I probably won’t remember all of it. But I will remember being amazed at seeing it.
Review by Matt Cowan and Melanie Casul
Photos & video provided by Lune Production
Performance dates & ticketing
Teh Dar just finished the successful tour in Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman in early March 2022.
Catch the next performance this 19 – 21 April 2022 at 20:00
Tickets and packages can be bought by visiting www.luneproduction.com
Lune Production’s four key spectacles are A O Show, Lang Toi – My Village, Teh Dar and Palao.
With local and international tourism looking promising in the next months, expect more performances to be announced soon.
*The Bureau Asia was a guest of Lune Production at this performance
**All product and service reviews posted on The Bureau Asia website and social platforms attempt to be as objective as possible
***The Bureau Asia is reader supported. Some of these links are affiliate links, which means that we earn a commission if you make a purchase using it at no extra cost to you. It helps support our website. We appreciate your support!