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Tape Riot in Saigon’s streets
Bradley Winterton
Monday,  Oct 2, 2017,17:37 (GMT+7)

Tape Riot in Saigon’s streets

Bradley Winterton

Swiss artists perform on Nguyen Hue pedestrian square in downtown HCMC - PHOTO: CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND HCMC

The rain held off long enough on Thursday afternoon to allow a performance at 5 p.m. by Switzerland’s Asphalt Piloten dance group on the Nguyen Hue Walking Street in central Saigon. A morning performance at 8 a.m. the same day had had to be delayed until 9.30 a.m. because of wet conditions.

Two dancers, Anna Anderegg and Laura Keil, moved slowly across an open space in the center of the boulevard, configuring themselves into a variety of contortions as they progressed. Meanwhile, a third figure, Herve Thiot, laid out sticky black tape in wide patterns on the paving stones.

It didn’t appear that the two dancers either avoided these taped lines or followed them, but they did keep to the general area the laid-out tapes delineated. And a ballet student I spoke to said that the movements they were doing were difficult, and couldn’t be done without training.

A small crowd gathered to watch the proceedings, many of them taking photos. A considerable number of tourists seemed to be among their number, as the Walking Street is a popular venue right in the center of the city.

“This performance has already been staged in several cities worldwide,” the Swiss Consul General in Saigon, Othmar Hardegger, told me, “and I think the comparative reactions of the onlookers in the different cities are part of its attraction.

“In some places there is a wall with which the dancers interact,” he added. Here in Saigon, however, they had to make do with a small metal structure they found fixed to the pavement.

The name of the performance was Tape Riot, and it was part of the ongoing Europe Meets Asia in Contemporary Dance festival. Its presentation here in Vietnam is supported by Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council, plus the Embassy of Switzerland in Hanoi and the Consulate General of Switzerland in HCMC, as well as the City of Biel/Bienne and Canton Bern in Switzerland.

Dance usually requires music, and on this occasion, it was provided in a taped version by Marco Barotti. This allowed the group to fulfill its stated intention of using the language of the body, music and visual art to universalize their communication in a way that was specific to the site selected.

There is a long history of street theater such as this. Often it confronts the spectators in aggressive or at least unexpected ways, following a tradition first established (also, interestingly, in Switzerland) by Tristan Tzara and the Dadaists. Asphalt Piloten, by contrast, appears more aesthetic in its intentions.

Saigon doesn’t often see performances of this sort, and it could be argued that street life in Asia has plenty of artistic or quasi-artistic resonances of its own. As it was, vendors selling lottery tickets or quick snacks continued to ply their trade irrespective of the foreign presence. The seventy or so passers-by who at any one time were watching were, however, clearly either fascinated or understandably puzzled. Whichever it was, they took their photos on their smartphones anyway.

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