The Vietnam Circus Federation was founded by Ta Duy Hien (1889-1966) on January 16, 1956. It began as a private company to provide opportunities for artists to work in the circus, training them through circus school and bringing them together in one big family. After Vietnam gained independence from French colonial rule in 1954, Hien handed his circus over to the new Vietnamese government but remained as its director.
Xiec is a story about work. It is an intimate look at the lives, dreams and struggles of performers in two Vietnamese circuses, one in Hanoi, the other in Ho Chi Minh City. Inspired by Mary Ellen Mark’s Indian Circus (1993, Chronicle), I photographed the circus families from 2009 to 2012, searching for traces of universal values, such as commitment, struggle, sacrifice or love.
Xiec documents the everyday life of a circus performer. The performers must train at the circus school in Hanoi, the only one in Viet Nam. Those who graduate with merit are able to apply for work at the official company, Vietnam Circus Federation. If the quota is complete, the remaining graduates travel to Ho Chi Minh City to perform for the Circus Group. Almost all artists from the Vietnam Circus Federation live in Lenin Park, Hanoi, in a house or a room. The artists who are part of the Circus Group live inside the Le Thanh theatre in Ho Chi Minh City, where artists musts build their own rooms out of wood and plastic inside the cavernous theater. All the artists receive a salary of $100.00 a month and $4.00 for every performance. Because of the low salary, many artists perform private shows in nightclubs, karaoke bars, and hotels.
My interest is not only to show the effort and dedication of the artists, but also their real life, human stories. The girl who goes to the city to achieve her dream, the mother taking care of her son alone, and the growing families in the circus culture – despite their exotic profession – they experience the same life struggles and joys as the rest of us.