LIFE ON STAGE

Ionah show is a truly unique piece of theatre depicting the days of a young Hanoian girl.

By LE DIEM on May 09,2018 02:45 PM

LIFE ON STAGE

Photos provided by STAR GALAXY

As the train whistle resounds from the century-old Long Bien Bridge like a cock crowing, Hanoi wakes up to the steps of people taking exercise and the call of porters loading goods and street vendors beginning a new day at the wholesale market under the southern reaches of the bridge. This familiar morning in Hanoi also starts the Ionah Show, an artistic presentation attracting a lot of local people and tourists over recent years.

When the sun goes down, the stage is gradually covered by darkness. There is only a small light from a room where a girl is looking out a window. What is she thinking about? Who is she waiting for? A clock ticks in the quietness. She seems to lose her serenity and begins to move, at different angles, deep in her mind’s journey to various worlds to find out about herself.

Her name is Ionah, or Hanoi spelt backwards, and her story being told expresses the love and passion of the show’s creators for the capital and sends a spiritual gift to the city’s people, according to her ‘father’, Director Pham Hoang Nam. ‘When I was asked by the producers to make a new, unusual and difficult art show, I was very much interested,’ he said. ‘It was a chance for artists like us to “play” with our passion for art.’

LIFE ON STAGE

Ionah was then born, taking people to a theatre that is traditional and new at the same time. Its uniqueness stunned many members of the audience, with its unusual combination of circus, dance, theatre arts, and hip-hop dance, accompanied by music, visuals, 3D mapping, and lighting effects. As it’s very much a visual experience, Vietnamese and foreigners alike can enjoy the show and understand the events being depicted.

Though the show takes place in a theatre space, an academic art form that is hard to understand for many Vietnamese, the producers worked hard to bring more entertaining features while keeping its artistic tone, according to Ionah’s ‘mother’, Ha Nguyen Huong, Program Producer and Director of the Star Galaxy Theatre and the Star Galaxy Company. ‘We want to be the pioneers in Hanoi in changing the stereotype many have towards theatre, especially young people, and wanted to create a new playground for artists and new spiritual nourishment for people in Hanoi,’ she said.

As soon as Ionah makes her first acrobatic moves, the audience can scarcely keep their eyes off her. Their eyes open every wider when her ‘friends’ appear and exhibit their own talent. It actually took two years of training before the show opened in September 2015 and circus acts contribute 60% of the action. With fascinating tricks, circus acts provoke a range of different emotions among the audience, according to Tong Toan Thang, the leader of Circus Team 3 at Vietnam Circus. The majority of a theatre show being circus acts brings a new dimension to the stage.

LIFE ON STAGE

They’re not just traditional circus acts, though. Circus performers in the Ionah Show also have to do many new ‘tricks’. Acrobats normally perform with a certain degree of freedom and the music follows. In this show, they move following the music, dance, hip-hop and sports dance, and like actors tell a story, albeit in a more lively manner.

At the beginning, Thang’s team faced a host of difficulties from the new skills required. They watched petals blooming and animals moving, to give more life and reality to their stage characters. There were injuries during training, given it was all quite new even to seasoned performers. Bui Huong, who plays Ionah, said the acting was the greatest challenge, as the audience is much closer to the stage than in a circus tent, and mistakes are more easily noticed. ‘It’s difficult but interesting,’ she said. ‘Sometimes the audience joins me in the act. They point their fingers to let me know something is coming towards me. As performers, the interest and applause of the audience are the greatest reward.’

Another factor contributing to the success of the show is the costumes. Each character has a unique and sophisticated costume of flowers, spiders or skeleton messengers from hell, which leaves an impression on the audience.

Designer Cong Tri spent eight months flying between Vietnam and Las Vegas when making the costumes. ‘They must not only look good and help portray the character properly but also be comfortable to perform in,’ he said.

With support from 3D visual effects created under instruction from Italian experts, many times the audience gasps at the appearance of a new character that brings more fanciful colour to the stage.

The sound and music are an indispensable part of the show. With his long experience as a sound producer of live music shows and movies, musician Quoc Trung brings true notes from life, such as bird song, train whistles, and ticking clocks to represent what Ionah loves and fights for. Vietnamese folk music also features throughout.

Thanks to its diverse art forms, the show attracts audience members of different ages. After nearly three years of performances, some 60,000 people have been mesmerised by the Ionah Show. With a semi-circular stage of some 200 sq m and capable for seating 300 people each show, Star Galaxy is the first theatre in Hanoi built by a private investor and is among the most modern in the country. Its high-end technology for multi-layered projection, sound and lighting systems, and theatrical effects bring a new experience compared to traditional theatre.

‘Watching Ionah felt like getting lost in Wonderland,’ said Mai, who had just seen the show with her kids. ‘It has a beautiful look and is quite interesting. It has a combination of artistic performances, not just separate acts. Everything is connected in telling the story, with great music, eye-catching costumes and talented artists. My kids loved it as well, not just me. I would definitely recommend my friends come and see Ionah.’

Ivan Koslanov from Russia, meanwhile, also thought it was a great show and gave him a sense of Vietnamese theatre and circus.

Ionah also received a five-star rating on TripAdvisor and was among the Top 5 entertainment venues in Hanoi.

Ionah Show

Performances: 7.45pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

Duration: 70 minutes

Venue: Star Galaxy Theatre, 87 Lang Ha, Ba Dinh Dist., Hanoi

Tickets: VND750,000 - 950,000

Website: www.ionah.vn

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