Wednesday, June 25, 2008


On Sunday night, Miss Vietnam ranked among the ten finalists of Miss Universe's National Costume Contest in a beautiful, but possibly rather haute, version1 of Vietnam's traditional garment, the áo dài (pronounced ow-yie in the south, and ow-zie in the north, the last syllable rhymes with "pie"). Not to be outdone, each of the other seventy-nine contestants wore one themselves Tuesday night at a charity pageant for Thanh Nien Newspaper.2 The áo dài is a surprisingly malleable pattern for something so traditional. Here you can see what I think of as the standard garment, a long tunic and pants seen frequently on the street and professional settings. Here you can see just how varied they can become. While I can wax curmudgeonly about how wide the theory of áo dài seems to range ("if they change everything about the traditional pattern--the V-shaped closure, the waist-high slit, the floor length, the mandarin collar--why is it still considered the same thing?"), Sunshine points out that these words literally mean "long garment" and so, in that respect, "áo dài" can be as inclusive as the word "dress". Four designers dressed twenty contestants each for the show Tuesday, in outfits ranging from sequined prom night mistakes to shockingly cool Erté deco designs.3 Between sets, gala entertainment seemed calibrated for rather international sensibilities, eschewing traditional eastern folk sounds for whatever is the Việt version of Cantopop and a nostalgic twenties theme.* I really enjoyed my first live Miss Universe event, by the way. Seeing everyone in person was revelatory: I'm a beauty queen naysayer at heart, but these women were far prettier live than they seem on TV. Onstage it was also easier to empathize with their vulnerabilities as a group of near-teenagers jammed thoroughly out of context in front of everyone. [Cavin]

Then, a 1 sided conversation ensued...

To which Blogger Mr. Cavin added:

* At least that was the between-segments entertainment. During the part where the judges tallied their numbers at the end of the show, the musical spots got a little stranger. Tied for favorite were: one; the three guys who, from right to left, either whistled, played what must be the best jew’s-harp in all of Vietnam, or broke it all down beatbox style; and two, a nearly perfect recreation of the choreography from Madonna’s Material Girl video, * which is itself a recreation of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic performance* of Jack Cole’s choreography in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).* And if the latter were to have grown steadily more tango with each reinterpretation since its movie musical roots, well, that reached its apotheosis on the Vietnamese stage set to post-punk grrl vocals and ever assuming that it takes ten to pull off a tango.

Saturday, June 28, 2008 8:37:00 PM  

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