Fanglao blends breakdance with traditional and contemporary dance.
As it becomes a more bustling and vibrant capital, Vientiane is also becoming the nation’s performance hub. Many of the city’s bars and restaurants bring live music and wide ranging discussions to interested audiences, and for a modern dance performance there is Fanglao, one of the region’s best dance troupes, which was founded by Lao choreographers Ounla “Kaka” Pha Oudom and Noutnapha “Nout” Soydala in 2013.
It’s easy enough to characterise them as a breakdance group, and yes they are proud of that tradition. But Fanglao blends breakdance and its mad, mind blowing physics, with traditional and contemporary dance. And rather than lots of clever acrobatics, each dance is choreographed and tells a story.
They are sardonic and astute observers of the human condition, playing out games in dance. One recent performance was about male relationships; the smiles followed by a shoulder shove, plying out the tension, the ambiguity.
Not only are the night’s performances symbolic, strong and breathtakingly courageous, they are invariably physically skillful. Fanglao combines breakdancing with Lao finger-stretching traditional dance, to bring fluidity and variability to what can be eye spinning gymnastics. There are some moves that leave me wondering how the hell did he or she do that? Their balance can be so elegant that they mock us by pretending to rock and fall. But in reality their toes grip the edge of the props like a gecko, while they center their mass like Frank Gehry.
While some may dismiss breakdancing as without form, clever rather than artistic, chaotic not classical, to understand the superlative control of mass, friction, torque, acceleration and in particular angular momentum, to name a few of the forces, is to understand the genius of the genre.
Typically break-dancers stand in a circle and call in each other in as a challenge to outdo his or her predecessor. Fanglao takes the style but not the format, so, as one dancer named Gumball explained, the breakdance move is the rotational spin on one hand, the contemporary additions are the how the move resolves and designs into a different kind of fluidity.
Dancers like to engage the audience at the end of each performance, sitting with a breathless ease that belies the extraordinary feats of the last hour.
‘When I dance I feel good,’ says Ole Khamchanla, one of the group’s mentors and a French-speaking choreographer. Nout, his female counterpart, hugs her folded legs in agreement. He is straight faced, serious minded with a streak of mischief that emerges later, she is open and shining and she says has been dancing since 2008.
“We want to make dancing a career for young Lao people. To teach them teamwork, diversity and the value of creativity over accumulation. Dance parallels life, but is also a solution.”
This article appeared in an earlier issue of Champa Meuanglao.
Fanglao regularly produces shows in their BlackBox theater located just north of Vientiane city center in Hongkha Village. Visit their Facebook to stay abreast on shows and booking information:
Text by Melody Kemp
Photographs by Van Hai