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Behind The Curtain: Standpoint Theories

Brimming with creative ideas, the multi-disciplinary Standpoint Theories, which first made an appearance last year at Cargo Bar, will grace Saigon once more for three days in January.

After taking in the initial production, we’re beaming with excitement to see a new rendition of this refreshing and original art performance that breaks away from the general canons of its format.

Brought together by a diverse cast and crew from several disciplines and countries, the upcoming Standpoint Theories’ performance aims to build a live action graphic novel revolving around six Vietnamese mythological tales - The legendary story of Âu Cơ, The god of Tản Viên Mountain known as Sơn Tinh, Phù Đổng Thiên Vương known as Ông Đổng; Chử Đồng Tử; Princess Liễu Hạnh and Bà Chúa Xứ, known as Lady of the Realm – that incorporate live music, dance, illustrations, singing, 3D mapping and visual art.

As we sat down for an interview with some of the artists involved in the show – the electronic band Space Panther (David Moses Haimovich Bryon Ramsey-Leonard) and illustrator Hoàng Trung AKA HGNTRUNG) – we find out that the upcoming production includes an expanded team, full of fresh faces. “We [Space Panther] composed all the songs for the performance. The two performances cannot be compared, this one is more cohesive and although the first one had a sort of theme, the purpose of the current one is to tell these stories. We wanted to tap into Vietnamese culture and it is a celebration of a mix of cultures.”

While Vietnamese may be very familiar with the mythological themes, for many foreigners this may be their first encounter with these legends. “We believe it will be a very visceral show where people will be able to make personal interpretations about them. Vietnamese people will know these stories and it will be a chance for foreigners to discover them. You don’t make something with the intention of making music to please the audience or how people will perceive it,” Haimovich said enthusiastically.

On the question of whether they felt some pressure on how people might react to their representation of stories that are at the core of Vietnamese culture, Ramsey-Leonard explained, “This is our interpretation of these myths; we had some concerns approaching them since there are many existing interpretations. We are very interested in seeing what the local people will think of the music.”

To tap into and retell the national myths, some of which that date back 3000 years, artistic director and dancer Emily Navarra has immersed herself in research and collected anything and everything she could find related to the topic during pre-production.

Each member undertook similar reinterpretation efforts, including Illustrator Hoàng Trung. “I researched deeply into every aspect of these myths, followed by searches concerning references of tribal elements from 4,000 years ago, such as the clothes and the iconographic representations of the characters. After I built my ‘library,’ I spent a long time practicing and recreating the original images. Only after that did I begin to add my own creativity,” said Trung.

He showed us some of the illustrations that will be on stage and, although there are signs of original symbols (particularly in the portraits of the Princess Mỵ Nươngand the King Thủy Tinh), the resulting composition of each illustration dives deep into Hoàng’s vision, which is made of strong colour palettes that evoke the powerful and mutating feelings related in these legends. “I would like to capture the essence of the characters through my art and the power of the colours,” he added.

The rollercoaster of emotions in the stories are reflected in both the show’s musical composition and illustrations. We asked Space Panther how the rendering of the emotional flux from one myth to the other came to life in their music, “Truong would send us the storyboards and we would build the songs around them. This music is in a way more cinematic but it is not like a soundtrack,” said Ramsey-Leonard.

“For example, the second myth narrates the legend of the Sơn Tinh, Lord of the Mountain and Thủy Tinh, Lord of the Water and their battle to conquer the love of the Princess. I feel these songs are more emotional. The music came straight from the illustrations and it is not rooted in Vietnamese music. The lead singer [Le Cat Trong Ly] will sing in Vietnamese, but without using the tones. In other parts, she will speak the character’s dialogues. This is the first project of this kind that she has undertaken, although the melody and the flow will fit with the Vietnamese musical tradition, particularly lullabies and folk music,” continued Haimovich.

The show will feature other local musicians - Eric Meftah from The Love Below and Gareth Katz from James and the Van Der Beeks – who will perform live transitional music from one story to the next with the help of animator Julien Noyer and visual artist Daniel Day Long.

As far as the day-to-day process which brought together many creative minds from numerous backgrounds and disciplines, “We would develop our own ideas and then Emily would come in and guide us and direct us. The process felt like a family effort, also because we all live very close to each other. The biggest challenge was time. After receiving the illustrations from Trung, we composed the music, which surprisingly came out pretty quickly. But then we had to wait for the animator to do his part of the job and we would go back and amend whatever was necessary. However, Emily’s vision, what she saw in us, made every single person so excited to be part of this project. Everyone’s dedication towards this has been very exciting”, Ramsey-Leonard explained.

Standpoint Theories is shaping up to be the very first performing arts production that fuses Vietnamese tradition with contemporary and international visions and artistic media. We agree with Ramsey-Leonard when he says, “We think this project is important for the country.” Hoàng hopes that the audience will take away the feelings that these legends capture, “some of them are about the beauty of love, while others are about the strength of the Vietnamese Army.”

Standpoint Theories will perform at Cargo Bar on the 9th, 10th and 11th of January before heading off to tour Hanoi, Hue and Da Nang.

Tickets can be purchased via Ticketbox.

Standpoint Theories was made possible thanks to the support of Viña Maipo, a prestigious Chilean wine producer with a rich history and excellent growth performance since 1948. Viña Maipo will offer during the events Sparkling wine (CASILLERO DEL DIABLO Devil's Brut), Vina Maipo Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.

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