But step inside and things rapidly improve. A troupe of 50 performing circus tricks, martial arts and modern dance greets spectators. Undeterred by often small audiences, the performers erupt onto the stage with fervor. Clad in silky karate uniforms of black, purple and white, the acrobats fly around the arena while two boys simultaneously descend from the ceiling - of course, untangling themselves from huge white sheets with sprightly finesse. Upfront a pint size Vitruvian man spins ferociously inside a big hoop.
This opening visual feast, accompanied by booming drums, is enough to rattle consciousness and leave interest aroused for the rest of the show.
A quick glimpse at the brochure reveals that the first act depicts the famous Vietnamese myth about the dragon king, Lac Long Quan, and a beautiful fairy called Au Co. The story tells how the two married and how Au Co gave birth to 100 babies, but despite their love they couldn’t quell their longing to return to their origins and had to separate. The king took his half of the offspring to the oceans where he taught them the ways of the sea, while Au Co took her children to the mountains and schooled them in the way of the land.
Enter the Dragon
It’s clear that the show is designed not just to be a fun spectacle but an insight into Vietnam’s cultural heritage, too. The beaming fairy queen descends from the rafters covered in flowers with feathery wings; an array of minions with leafy helmets and green velvet shorts emerge to fuss over their matriarch with dramatic gestures of adoration - a graceful scene crudely interrupted by the entry of a seven-manned dragon slithering onto the stage among ominous drum beats and symbol crashes. A ballet style mating ritual ensues before the bizarre duo fly backstage.
Continuing with the focus on Vietnam’s history, the second act propels its viewers back to 43AD for interpretations on the story of the famous Trung sisters. Hai Ba Trung Street was named after these national heroines, and according to the pamphlet, the sisters were accomplished fighters from a young age. Later, when one of the sister’s husbands (Thi Sach) was executed by the Chinese, the sisters formed an army to liberate Vietnam from atop elephants. But it was short-lived. The foreign powers returned and a tragic ending ensued.
The finale is more symbolic of 21st century Vietnam, and doesn’t disappoint. A policeman, a builder in an orange high-vis jacket and a doctor accompanied by other workers prance around the stage before gradually mounting one bicycle. A total of nine people board the vessel maneuvered by a surprisingly composed captain.
From the outside, it looks like a laughing stock. Perhaps the worst night out in District 1, ever. But a night with Xin Chao provides good quality entertainment. This, coupled with insight into the history of a country many foreigners now call home results in a memorable night inside the big top.
For more info or tickets visit, www.xinchaosaigon.com.