Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
- on Aug 13, 2020       By: BN
It would be very unfortunate if your stay in Hanoi were deprived of an hour of performances at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. One of the rare establishments of folk performances that is still on going and very busy. This place offers you plays 365 days a year, a record recognized by the Asian Records Organization (ARO).
A typical rural Vietnamese village in miniature
Founded in 1969 in Dinh Tien Hoang Street (at 57b), very close to Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Returned Sword), with a troupe of 12 puppeteers, the Thang Long theatre has grown steadily and now has around forty puppeteers and an orchestra of a dozen instrumentalists. Offering between 4 and 6 performances per day, its activities have undergone considerable evolution while other folk forms are relatively in decline.
The soul of the Vietnamese fields
It is not a grandiose and sumptuous theatre that awaits you, but rather a friendly aquatic space where figures full of humorous charm will appear.
This art, which appeared in the 11th century, is closely linked to rice growing in water and is becoming popular in almost all the communities of Thang Long city as well as in artistic troupes from other provinces of Tonkin. Inspired by scenes from everyday life, we often find in each session a miniature rural village with communal houses and traditional festivities. The very colourful shows, staged on the surface of the water, bring to life metaphorical dolls of rural life, peasants and also animals, the characters of legends and folk tales.
A traditional dance of Vietnamese ethnic groups
The shows were initially staged in the open air, on a pond or a village basin. As a result, the background music had to be intense enough to give rhythm to the quivering animation. Based on gestural activities as the language of interpretation, this art, similar to dance, is inseparable from music, which constantly varies according to the piece, but always bewitching. The success of these shows also owes to perfect coordination between the puppeteers and the traditional orchestra.
Fishermen at work
The dolls, on the other hand, are traditional sculptures, made from wood, bamboo and rattan. They attract young and old alike, especially with an always warm mood and an allure that is both inspiring and comical. The most typical character is "Teu", a very young man, in good shape and smiling, who is reminiscent of a typical portrait of a Vietnamese peasant, modest but optimistic.
Hiding behind a curtain, the puppeteers assiduously deploy their hands as well as their meticulous care to play the figures. The puppeteer, endowed with skill and proven dedication, infuses the dolls with a soul unique to each character. The representations mainly echo the daily activities, customs and traditions passed down from one generation to another, sometimes optimistic about difficulties, sometimes ironic about social ills.
A ceremony in the countryside
The scenes are accompanied by narration in Vietnamese, with an English translation available on-screen for some shows. Whatever it is, it's self-explanatory to everyone. “A culture is revealed through the way of life, the belief, values and also through gestures. You can easily understand it without speaking the same language," said one spectator.
Something to delight parents and children alike
Thanks to the immense passion and relentless creativity of the artists, water puppets, recognized as a national intangible heritage, are making a dazzling place among the most important forms of puppet theatre. Dedicated to showcasing beautiful ancient traditions, this art offers enriching entertainment for Vietnamese, and also an unmissable cultural experience of a trip to Hanoi, absolutely recommended for family vacations.
A communal feast
Through the classic representations that make it famous such as History of Hoan Kiem Lake, Thanh Giong, Dragon-Fairy Meeting, Khèn Dance (mouth organ) of the Hmong, Cham Dance of the Khmers, significant novelties have been adopted by the artists of Thang Long theatre to better satisfy their audience. In particular, audiences also have the opportunity to see a classic excerpt from the eternal ballet "Swan Lake" by the genius Tchaikovsky. This play won a silver prize at the Thang Long Theatre within the framework of the International Water Puppet Festival held in Hanoi in 2015. In addition, the theatre managed to seduce a large international audience through organized shows in more than 50 countries.
The international success of the Thang Long theatre show, "Swan Lake"
The Thang Long water puppet theatre, with its large and varied audience, plays an important role in making friends around the world better aware of the beauties that Vietnam has with its cultural richness and unchanging traditional values.
>> Do you want to be closer to the soul of Hanoi? Take a look at our selection of the must-see places to visit in Hanoi and its surroundings and at the tailor-made programs concocted by an English-speaking travel agency in Vietnam.