KVT – An Intimate Extravaganza

KVT – An Intimate Extravaganza

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KVT gatecrashes and is rewarded

Dao Anh Khanh has done it again in the intriguing surrounds of his stilt house on the old flood plain of the Duong, in a village that is rapidly losing itself in suburban sprawl. Here, on the year’s first balmy night, up a paved laneway that for the night became home to a thundering herd of glinting, full throttlingly expensive Harley Davidson’s, a theatrical event that was intended, I hear, to be an intimate gathering and which became the target of a thousand eager viewers, blossomed and blooomed under the direction of the master of extravaganzas.

I guess many foreigners in the audience were not around to see Khanh’s grand happenings in the same alley (minus a house or two) in 2010, especially the opener that had my blood racing and my mind whirling.

But I was glad I got there early on Friday night. Got a good ringside seat on the ground with the wriggling, squirming and excited kids while the majority had to push for vantage spots in the dense and deeply packed crowd. Nearly didn’t get in as we didn’t realize that it was invitation only but a bit of blustering got us past the phalanx of security people.



The buzz in the local language press was pretty high so, as should be, a lot of Vietnamese were like us and determined to grab a vantage spot.

Now I know that Dao Anh Khanh loves to play with fire – physically, metaphorically and teasingly, so I was excited by the smell of kerosene that hung …like an aphrodisiac if you were a pyromaniac… in the very humid night air.

After the necessary speeches and enthusiastic translation followed by a prolonged overture of identifiable music, those maestros of sound, Tri Minh and Vu Nhat Tan were given the nod and from their platform overlooking the action they began playing their excellent and excellently resounding new music composition which was an oustanding feature of the night….as it invariably is.

Here’s my translation of the Synopsis: The theatrical cum dance plus installation plus + + piece was performed in a rectangular arena barred like a cage. Inside the bars, as the music started, three performers clad from head to toes in paper money or magazine advertisements or celebrity faces, and plastic wrapping,- probably to represent us all imprisoned in a shallow material world and out of touch with a natural environment, began to slowly tear the stuff away until they were stripped bare and were like frustrated birds in a aviary.

As the dance progressed a child joined in the pathos while the male of the species descended a flaming ladder that stretched up into the velvet night sky….a phoenix sent from the gods! He effortlessly entered the worldly cage with a flaming, avenging and cleansing fire torch and set the earthly world alight, releasing the females and the juveniles into metaphoric flight and freedom above the heads of the audience. One was curled in a world globe shaped cage, perhaps to represent the deliverance of earth from the machinations of greed and destruction or maybe to represent the dawning of a new innocence ready to be born from the womb of mother earth.


Unfortunately the kerosene soaked ropes that represented the bars of the cage failed to ignite (probably due to a combination of evaporation during the lengthy prologue and water saturation from the very humid air). However, anyone with a sliver of poetry in their beings would have seen the conflagration in their mind’s eye and gasped at the audacity of it all.

Given, say, a Lucinda Childs or a Peter Brook to hone and minimalize the concept, Dao Anh Khanh could have an enormous contemporary dance hit on his hands.

Another enjoyable night near the banks of the limpid Duong… and the little kids sitting near me were mesmerized for the whole performance… not even thinking of toilet breaks.

The army of official photograpers were kept reined in which was a blessed relief.

Good stuff Anh Khanh and team, and I hope the poor mountain kids benefited from the donations.


Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.


  1. Đào Anh Khánh and Phương Vũ Mạnh’s performance last Friday night was a little disappointing to some people. I applaud someone who has that much pulling power, and to bring an audience of that size to see a piece of performance art here is praiseworthy.

    Also, his causes were good – collecting money for children in poor mountain areas is not to be criticised, even if it was initially unclear what the people parading with plastic boxes were collecting for.

    Anh Khánh and Vũ Mạnh know how to put on a good show. The sets were impressive: towering bamboo, burning ladders, aerial acrobatic dancers, live body painting, cages ripped apart in performance. The quality of performance was, generally, very high as well – music, dance, and art melded well, and it all had the feel of a grand performance.

    Here comes the (two) buts: The artists obviously aren’t pushing themselves. Both are obviously at the top of their game, and who do they have to compete with? No-one, which is why their performances are missing that little extra that makes me think “wow, I didn’t see that coming”. It’s that magic which makes a performance unique. As it is, it’s just a rustic light, sound, and dance show, made by a pair of eccentric artists.

    The second point: probably clearer in retrospect, but the reaction to the Harley Davidson motorbike extravaganza was, on the whole, one of awe. A friend said to me afterwards “They’re amazing; all that metal, it was making my heart pound”. Certainly not the reaction Anh Khánh and Vũ Mạnh were looking for. The metal fetishist is not going to be jolted into seeing the environmental impact unless his favourite motorcycle is crushed before his eyes.

    The consequence of having such a small scene is that there is little challenge for the artists. They need to push themselves more. The audience is there, the opportunities are there, now make great art.

  2. Josh,
    Reading your comment, I found it excellent.

    On Feb 28th I posted my opinion on the “motorbike element” of the performance reviewed above in critical terms concerning its concept in relation to the environment.

    I am somewhat surprised it did not make it since I do not see it published.

    It is my belief that without critical approach in assessment of an art act there can not be possibility of evolution…

    • @ ilza

      Thanks for your contribution to our site. However, we didn’t see any comments from you posted on 28th Feb as mentioned, or else there would be no reason why we could have hidden it. The purpose of comment approval is purely to filter spammers. Probably there was a technical problem that prevented your comment on that day from reaching our system.. Feel free to submit it again if you want to.

      And we look forward to receiving more of your critical opinions in the future.

      Thanks you,
      The HanoiGrapevine team

  3. @ The Hanoi Grapevine Team,

    Many thanks for your reply — I appreciate it greatly.

    (Perhaps it was a glitch in the system for my comment not to appear.
    Unfortunately I do not keep it on file to re-post, but when submitted it appeared for the moment under the note “awaiting moderation” and at that time the above article was not posted yet).

    But, let me try again and recapture my critique of the “motorbike performance” in particular — all in all the concept of bringing a number of Harley Davidson motorbikes in one spot and revving/burning fuel/tyres was not only unsuccessful in raising our awareness of already polluted environment, but downright questionable — if anything ” the performance” only polluted the surroundings some more…+ it did register with me as not much else, but a Harley Davidson promotional stunt…

    I well understand the symbolism and irony as valuable tools in bringing a message across, but do object to art which excuses the means to supposedly deliver the ends.

    From this point of view the performance was questionable and unfortunately reduced itself to a tacky entertainment.

    Perhaps my critique sounds harsh, but I do greatly respect and honor artists’ efforts in creating art and believe that an honest look at any art act is mandatory.

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