Art in Da Nang
Living in Vietnam has so many perks: warm weather, cheap beer, great food and friendly people. But one thing that’s conspicuously absent here is any kind of art scene, especially art in Da Nang. And no, some kid singing acoustic Rihanna covers in a coffee shop doesn’t count. In Da Nang, once a year a foreign theater company will come and perform a Christmas-themed play at the Trung Vuong Theater. And that’s about it. So this past week, I had the chance to check out some art in Da Nang when my French neighbor gave me an invitation to see Gabriel Bianco play classical guitar.
Who the hell is Gabriel Bianco? I quick Google search will reveal that this dude is no slouch. He’s played guitar in some big places and has collected his fair share of awards. And his performance was pretty amazing to watch. There were moments where his fingers were moving so fast, my eyes were involuntarily bulging. But as impressive as his playing was, other aspects of the evening were pretty disappointing.
First, the stage looked more like a kindergarten graduation ceremony than an international musical concert. It was in the auditorium of Da Nang University, which is hardly a suitable venue. During his first song, the microphone kept cutting out as the battery was dying. Apparently no one bothered to check this before. But worst of all, lots of people in the audience were talking, sending & receiving text messages (with the volume on!) and getting up to walk outside during the middle of a song. Totally shocking. After one song toward the end of the performance, I became so frustrated I turned around and chastised the young couple sitting behind me. I felt bad for the other audience members who came to appreciate the music, but most of all I felt bad for Mr Bianco, who came from literally the other side of the world to play for us here.
After thinking about the whole experience for the last few days, I think there’s a couple of takeaways:
The city of Da Nang dropped the ball big time. They had an international musician coming to play here, and as hospitable as people are, they did not give him a suitable welcome. There was no promotion of any kind and the venue was terrible. Why not invite the best-of-the-best from the Da Nang Music College to play a few introductory pieces and turn an hour acoustic (since the mic wasn’t working) performance into a memorable evening of music? Why not book out the Trung Vuong Theater, put up some banners and invite the ‘who’s who’ of Da Nang to come out and make an appearance? Nope, didn’t happen.
Vietnam is caught in a vicious circle of not knowing how to respect performance art and not getting many performers here. Go to any movie theater in Vietnam, and there will be multiple announcements to please turn off your mobile. Then count how many people answer their phone during the film. Then notice that no one, not a single person, will tell them to shut up and hang up their phone. I’ve also been to the awesome Cafe Bet in Saigon, where local acting groups perform mini-plays in a coffee shop, and I’ve observed the exact same behavior, even after several reminders. The problem is, people just don’t know they’re being rude. Without the opportunity to see live performances, Vietnamese people have no chance to learn the social rules for attending these kinds of events. But what about Mr Bianco? Surely he won’t be going back to France recommending Da Nang as a great place to play.
Promoting Art in Da Nang
What can be done? I really don’t know, and haven’t actually thought that far ahead. But it’s sad to think about the missed opportunities and ‘what could have been’. I can only hope that performers will be as patient and gracious as Mr Bianco while Vietnam works through it’s unpleasant growing pains.
For more insight on art in Da Nang or Vietnamese culture in general, check out a food tour, where you can discuss what’s going on in Vietnam with a local expat while enjoying some delicious street fare.