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The Thang Long Theatre and the art of water puppets

18/03/2020 756 Views
Múa (dance) rối (puppet) nước (water), meaning literally “the dance of puppets on water”, is a traditional Vietnamese art that is believed to have existed since the 11th century or so.

Water has always been a source of life as well as destruction. In Vietnam, the Red River Delta is particularly capricious and dangerous, being connected not only with the Red River, but also with the Tai Binh River.

The Red River Delta region is considered as the birthplace of the Kinh (primitive Viet, today representing 90% of the Vietnamese population). During the Ly dynasty (between the 11th and 12th centuries), the Kinh decided to use these violent but abundant floods from the river to improve the cultivation of rice, thus marking the beginning of the cultivation of flooded rice fields, which is still used today and is the source of rice abundance in Vietnam (today’s 3rd world rice exporter behind Thailand and India).

Indeed, the Kinh pioneered in land clearing and understanding of their tropical and humid climate, favourable to the cultivation of flooded rice fields. Thus, the use of naturally flooded land allowed them to easily irrigate their plantations and create a technique that will shape the country in its own way.

The birth of the art of puppets on water is profoundly linked with the culture of flooded rice fields.

The peasants used abandoned pieces of wood, threads used to make fishing nets, and bamboo or reed stems to build their puppets. In the beginning, this art was used to implore the ancestors of the elements for a good harvest, then gradually become an art in its own right. The art of manipulating puppets on water was handed down from father to son, then from generation to generation, to finally reachus and become an art promoting the dexterity of artists as well as the history and culture of Vietnam.

The water puppets

Puppets are traditionally made from fig tree wood and hand painted. Measuring an average of 40cm, the lower part of the puppet houses the mechanism and serves as a float, while the upper part is the one you will see the most out of the water. Puppets are connected to their puppeteers (who are also in the water) by bamboo stems and threads, allowing them to manipulate them remotely, while remaining close to the public, behind the bamboo curtain.

Real art of work, take the time to observe the details before, during or after the performance; some of the puppets are painted of the traditional costumes of the Vietnamese ethnic groups and each have a very distinct and refined expression.

The Thang Long Theatre

Probably the most popular water puppet theatre in Vietnam, it’s a must during your trip to Hanoi!

Thanks to its location near Lake Hoan Kiem in Hanoi, the theatre has been a popular destination for locals and tourists since 1969! It is the establishment of Hanoi which receives the largest foreign audience and, for good reason, the room fills up for each performance. The theatre is also a pioneer in the diffusion and popularity of this art, since its shows have travelled to Japan in Europe and the United States.

Comfortably seated in your seat (we advise you to target the front ranks), you will admire a show of about 1 hour, traditionally comprising 17 pieces relating legends, stories of daily life and Vietnamese folklore.

Animated by the puppet Teu, which is a bit the equivalent of Harlequin, the pieces vary between dancing fairies, dragons spitting water, fishing scene on a boat (spoiler at the end the boat turns around), the fox who steals a duckling from an old couple of peasants, the scene of the sword restored with the legendary turtle…

The whole thing is animated by an orchestra, singers and voices on each side of the stage and behind the curtain who shout comments and stories and animate the scenes by their voices and instruments. On a more modern side, the show is enriched with lights, smoke and sometimes even a screen with English translation (you can also rent an audio guide at the entrance of the theatre).

Every performance of múa rối nước is a pleasure for the eyes and a joyful and engaging spectacle embodying Vietnamese culture in its most authentic and playful form. You will enjoy this excursion with family or friends that will take you only 1 hour, with the city center of Hanoi at night at the exit!

Water puppet shows at the Thang Long Theatre, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

Address of Thang Long Theatre
57B, Dinh Tiên Hoang, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi, Vietnam

Price of the tickets of Thang Long Theatre
Between 60,000 VND and 100,000 VND depending on the place category (don’t forget, go to the front!)

Shows at the Thang Long Theatre
Every day at 4:10 pm, 5:20 pm, 6:30 pm and 8:00 pm (try to arrive 20 minutes early to make sure you have a place and the one you want, especially if you are in a group and want to sit next to each other)
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