Water puppet

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Vietnamese water puppetry has a long history. An inscription on a stone stele in Doi Pagoda, Duy Tien District, Nam Ha Province, relates a water puppet show staged in the year 1121 to mark a birthday of King Ly Nhan Tong in 4036 words.

Puppets are made of wood and coated with waterproof paint. Each puppet is handmade, has its own posture and expresses a certain character. The most outstanding puppet is known as chu teu which has a round face and a humorous and optimistic smile. The show starts with chu teu, dressed in an odd costume, offering joyful laughter.

The pond and lakes of the northern plains, where crowds gathered during festival and galas, become the lively stages for the water puppet shows. At a water puppet show, the audience watches boat races, buffalo fights, fox hunts and other rustic scenes amidst the beating of drums and gongs. The characters plough, plant rice seedlings, fish in a pond with a rod and line, scoop water with a bamboo basket hung from a tripod, etc. The show is interspersed with such items as a Dance by the Four Mythical Animals: Dragon, Unicorn, Tortoise, and Phoenix and Dance by the Eight Fairies, in which supernatural beings enjoy festivities alongside people of this world.

In water puppet shows there is a very effective combination of visual effects provided by fire, water, and the movements of the marionettes. The whole control system of the show is under the surface of the water, concealed from the audience. When fairy figures appear to sing and dance, it is calm and serene; then the water is agitated by stormy waves in scenes of battle, with the participation of fire-spitting dragons.

There are many contributing factors to the art of water puppetry, including such handicrafts as wood sculpture and lacquer work. The factors all work together to bring out charming glimpses of the Vietnamese psyche, as well as typical landscapes of Vietnam.


Cai luong or Vietnamese Renovated Opera

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Cai luong is a kind of folk music that developed in the early 20th century. It was first played by amateurs in the south. Thanks to their soft voices, southerners sing cai luong very romantically.

The performance includes dances, songs, and music; the music originally drew its influences from southern folk music. Since then, the music of cai luong has been enriched with hundreds of new tunes. A cai luong orchestra consists mainly of guitars with concave frets and danakim.

Over time, cai luong has experienced a number of changes to become a highly appreciated type of stage performance. 

Cheo or Vietnamese popular theatre

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Cheo is a form of stage performance that originated in the northern countryside. The word cheo means “lyrics of folk ballads, proverbs”.

Traditionally, cheo was composed orally by anonymous authors. Today's playwrights compose cheo along traditional lines. The characters in the plays sing time-tested popular melodies with words suited to modern circumstances. Human rights and the battle of good against evil are common themes. The joyfulness and optimism of cheo is expressed through humour and wit.

In cheo performances, there is always an exchange between the audience and the performers. The performers, dao (actress), kep (actor), lao (old man), mu (female character) and he (buffoon).

At present cheo is an integral part of Vietnamese theatre and is well liked by people in both the country and in towns, and by foreign spectators as well.



Royal music and Dance

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On November 7, 2003, UNESCO bestowed world heritage status on 28 relics of nations as masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity. Among the 11 masterpieces of Asia, nha nhac (royal music) represents the first intangible legacy of Vietnam to have been put on this list.

The UNESCO Council appraised Vietnamese royal music in the following terms: “Vietnamese royal music represents an elegant and refined music. It deals with the music performed in the imperial courts and on different anniversaries, religious festivals, and on such particular occasions. Of the different categories developed in Vietnam, only the royal music was national.”

Nha nhac (Vietnamese royal music) and its principles came to Vietnam under the Ho Dynasty (1400-1407). The Ho Dynasty, however, only existed for a short time, so nha nhac rapidly fell into oblivion. In 1427, Le Loi defeated the Chinese Ming invaders and liberated the country. However, nha nhac only began to develop in the reign of King Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497) and reached its peak under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945).

Nha nhac is genre of scholarly music. It attracted the participation of many talented songwriters and musicians, with numerous traditional musical instruments.

From now on, nha nhac will have opportunities to preserve, develop and popularize to the public, inside and outside the country.

Ca Tru in Vietnam

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Young people now enjoy new music that comes to them from the radio, television, audio and video tapes, as well as compact discs. So, do they still show any attachment to the old folk tunes so loved by their elders, such as the melodies of ca tru? Ca tru is a musical genre that calls for expertise as well as sensibility on the part of the listeners. In return, it provides the most refined enjoyment.

Ca tru is where poetry and music meet. People familiar with such ancient verse as luc bat (the six eight-syllable distich) and hat doi (singing tossed back and forth between groups of young men and women), and who are capable of sympathizing with the sentiments expressed in the sound of a small drum or a two-string viol, are more likely to fully enjoy a recital of ca tru.
Ca tru music is most enjoyable when there is complete harmony between the words being sung, the rhythm marked by a pair of small bamboo sticks held by the singer who strikes a small block of wood or bamboo called phach, and, last but not least, the appreciation shown by a man among the audience beating a small drum at the appropriate moments.

In short, ca tru is a refined form of art which is paradoxically appreciated and loved by audiences of all compositions. There are those who sit in small numbers in an urban auditorium to enjoy a recital. A Ca Tru Club has been founded in Hanoi where amateurs of this musical genre, young and old, local and foreign, regularly meet to enjoy its charming melodies