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Puppetry art performance

Thang Long Water Puppetry Theatre is very proud of bearing the name of a thousand-year-civilization capital, which has brought up the water puppetry art for over ten centuries. Vietnam water puppetry has won all hearts of a large number of audiences thanks to Art Festivals, which we have attended in Japan, Switzerland, Australia, Thailand, Spain, Portugal, and Hongkong, Denmark…. These are some of the countries we have ever performed in:

+1999: Sydney (Australia), Athens (Greek).

+1998: Spain, Portugal, Iran, France, Italy, Philippines.

+1997: Italy, Mexico, France, America, Belgium.

+1996: Spain, Brazil, America, France.

+1995: Denmark, America, Spain, Portugal, Japan.

+1994: Australia, Spain, France, Switzerland, Korea.

+1993: Hongkong, Japan.

+1992: Japan, France, Thailand.

Secondly, stage: the front of the screen was the square water stage of about 4 x 4 m. There were low fences, which surrounded the stage where puppets performed.

Thirdly, the space for the audiences: the edge of ponds, the two sides of the stage, beneath the trees around ponds. The water puppet theatre was the main place of the festival. That was the place for many traditional games (wrestling, cock-fighting…), entertainment (shopping…), and displaying areas (flags, drums, fans, and lamps…). The audiences were fascinated by the exciting atmosphere and beautiful surrounding of the festival.

A clear proof showed that the cradle of the water puppetry art was the old Thang Long capital (Hanoi). The center of the fertile plains of North Vietnam (the cradle of the old civilization of Vietnam) criss-crossed by a dense net work of rivers, lakes and ponds with their annual flood cycle well known to the local inhabitants.

Water puppetry rooted in the course of confronting with the nature disasters which usually threatened the people in this area. Water-one of the most four dangerous disasters: Water, Fire, Robbery, Invaders-was made useful to the wet-rice growing.

This unique art is the achievement of Vietnamese creation, which reflects the lifestyle, behaviour, and the attitude to Gods, nature and human beings.

Vietnamese culture had the origin and identity that arised and developed on the basis of the civilization of water rice agriculture, the cradle of the cultivation. The perfect harmony between human beings and nature created an agriculture foundation with the community settled into villages thousands years ago. From wet-rice cultivation, the habitants invented the wet-rice civilization, Red Rive Delta civilization. This age-old Vietnamese civilization leaded to the stable village tradition and customs, human and nature.

The technique used in wet-rice cultivation and other supplementary works related to it as well as the culture was like a bridge, which created a combination between human beings and nature. They contributed important parts in establishing water puppetry art. Living together with water, Vietnamese people combined farming with fishing, made boats become the main transportation and the most effective means used in wars. Those images were created on Bronze Drums. Vietnamese people tried to control the Red Rive and built huge dam system. In this time, many legends were made up such as Son Tinh-Thuy Tinh legend, an immortal heroic epic. 

Water-stage used in puppetry art performances is a special thing of water puppetry art. Water is not only a place for puppets but also an intelligent, resonant and symbiosis element. Water hinders then supports and co-operates with puppets. Water is both performance stage and the wizard with much magic in the puppetry art. Water puppets are seemed to be simple and rough sculpture-works, solid lines, poor colour, and zigzag movements. However, they evoke the general conception of human beings and other things to the spectators. The liquid feature and reflection of water creates the fickle. Water stage mirrors the sky, clouds, trees, sights, changes unpredictably. This makes it become an idea background for puppet-characters to perform. From this "mirror", everything becomes sparkle, flexible, changeable in front of the spectators’ eyes. The simple and rough of line and colour of puppets’ movements become alive and lively. Water hides behind every secret of puppetry art. The spectators see puppets appear and then isappear, hear softer and more flexible sound of drums, firecrackers.

When watching water puppetry shows, the spectators sat outdoors, commuted with nature. Everything here was so real and sensitive. Among these everyday-life-popular things, water puppetry was the most prominent. Its beauty was as the brilliant moon in the sky at night and expresses the creation of Vietnamese people, praised the victory of the combat against nature.

Water puppetry is both real and unreal; not only stage but also life, familiar with Vietnamese people such as banian trees (cay da), ferry (con do), folk songs. Water puppetry stage is a place for festivals, preserving many folk art creations, age-old technology, and spiritual life of Vietnam wet-rice growing during the establishment of the country thousands years ago.

Land-puppet
The traditional land puppet art has developed in every corner of the country, known by many names:
- In the North: Oi, Loi, Oi Loi, Khoi Loi, Roi, Mua roi, Tro, Tro may…(Viet minorities), Moc Thau Hi (Nung minorities), Sluong Pat Lap (Tay minorities)…
- In the South: Hat go, Hat hinh…

Land-puppet comprises five kinds: hand-puppets, pole-puppets, machinery-puppets, string-puppets and shadow-puppets. 
Hand-puppets are rarely performed on the stage but in pagoda festivals. The hollowed-out heads are made of wood. When operating, puppeteers use long poles attached to the necks of the puppets or ware heads on their hands.

Pole-puppets are very popular, about 30-35 cm. The heads and the bodies are carved together. Heads consist of hair, ears, and hats. Wooden hands are connected with wrists. They are operated with bamboo poles; metal poles attached to the bodies or the wrists of the puppets under clothes. These puppets have no legs; therefore, legs are carved separately with the whole bodies and then put together. In some areas, puppets are big and made of bamboo. Used in worshipping and burned right after. Bana ethnic minorities create big wooden dummies used in funerals and then left in the tomb. On the stage, soft strings and poles are used to control small parts of the puppets. 

Machinery-puppets are very popular in games, toys and stage. The whole bodies are carved with wood. Each part separates with the other and was put together with joints. Lacquer is used instead of clothes. Machinery-puppets are controlled by strings and poles and accompanied with hand-puppets and pole-puppets. Especially, they are used in children toys, kite puppets, wind-puppets and so on.
String-puppets appeared in the border of Cao Bang called Sluongpat Lap or Moc Thau Hi. They have wooden heads, wooden arms but no legs, are operated by bamboo strings, silk strings or hemp strings. The stage is built on "choi"(cottage) in markets, or near casinos.
Shadow-puppets have been lately found. They originated from Kien Giang Province or From Cambodia, but it doesn’t exist now.

Vietnamese puppetry art has a close relationship with the international puppetry association, which has headquarter in France and other organizations: IIM (Research Institute of International Puppetry), ESNAM (The National College of Puppetry Art), and PUCK (Puppetry Magazine).

Vietnamese puppetry art is widely introduced, especially the water puppetry, in international puppetry festivals, abroad performances and books, newspapers as well.

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