Friday, March 24, 2023 | Ramadan 1, 1444 H
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Experiencing Vietnamese culture in the heart of Muscat

Something amazing is happening at the Royal Opera House Muscat this month. While a lot of us are already aware of the amazing shows they prepare monthly, the month of March is particularly noteworthy primarily because they are bringing the world's culture to our little corner here in the Sultanate.

A case in point is the event that took place this weekend at the ROH Musical Arts. From southeast Asia, show director Tuan Le and musical director Nguyen Nhat Ly in coordination with artistic director Nguyen Lan Maurice and choreographer Ngo Thanh Phoung brought Teh Dar — The Bamboo Circus of Vietnam to the shores of Oman.

There is no better way to summarise the whole performance except that it has everything that you can ask for in a show — a little bit of drama, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of horror and a whole lot of action.

And action-packed it was indeed, from beginning to end. Unlike the regular ROHMA programming, it was a 60-minute performance that kept on revealing layer upon layer of insight into the lives of Vietnamese.

The show opened up with a procession, the performers walking through a dimmed hall with only the stage bleeding with red light revealing on it different traditional Vietnamese instruments.

The procession took at least five minutes combining the tantric melody of instruments I can't even name and the humming and groans of the men and women who would become the soul of the performance. They all lined up in front of the stage broken and led into the darkness by the authoritative shout of the elder before everything faded into darkness.

The first bamboo setup was then led into the stage — a giant half-circle weaved basket with three protruding bamboos that served as its base. This contraption is rolled on the floor like a wrecking ball forced to swing in the direction of the performers. Demonstrating their agility, the performers would dance with it, evading it, toying with it with so much ease they looked like nothing more but doing child's play.

The full show was divided into nearly half a dozen different segments all showcasing the preciseness of the movement of both performers and contraption that any wrong move would have led to fatal injury. More than anything, one key takeaway is that this show was made to impress and was a true reflection of Vietnamese discipline.

There was numerous stand out performances throughout the whole show. My personal favourite was the fishing segment where performers gracefully moved from moving baskets resembling rocks on a river and ultimately, the one that stole everyone's heart was the monster scenes when the performers contorted while hanging on a bamboo contraption nearly 15 metres high. The swinging bamboo pendulum also needed a mention because, for the life of me, I can't figure out how they made it work that it was nothing short of impressive.

Having been performed over 500 times in 17 countries all over the world, the Bamboo Circus is the Vietnamese art form that a lot of people and production companies wanted to see. At its core, the use of "bamboo" and "circus" is a representation of the ordinary rhythms of the simple country life of this Southeast Asian nation.

Watching the performers on stage, it was breathtaking to see them play with bamboo poles nearly three times their size. It was awe-inspiring how they move from pole to pole with ease and how, with very minimal setup, they were able to create a whole new world beautifully crafted out of bamboo. It's genius how through wild imagination and creativeness, they were able to communicate peaceful river, majestic mountain, and cityscape of high-rise buildings on a stage where the light takes you to the next venue with ease.

Deferring to ROHM's description, "the instruments used are unique to Vietnam: the Central Highlands gongs; the traditional lute in the northern folk tradition (ca trù); the two-chord fiddle of southern folk music. These are all recognized by UNESCO as cultural treasures. Each scene of the show brings the audience closer to the essence of Vietnamese culture and tradition."

Without a doubt, the Bamboo Circus of Vietnam in fact "was a harmonious play on juxtapositions: the toughness of the bamboo pole versus the flexibility of the body and the stillness of a rural village versus the excitement of the circus combined with the flare of Vietnamese genius."

I would have to thank Lune Production for its commitment to producing world-class entertainment. To have the opportunity to experience the culture of Vietnam right at the heart of Muscat was a true gift in a time when the world has suffered a lot. It was a welcome distraction but more than that, it was a beaming invitation to see the countryside of Vietnam and experience its culture first-hand.

And that I think is the reason why you should watch out for the next performances coming this month at ROHM — it's that gift of experiencing the world without living the comfort of life in Muscat.

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