Tourism keeps Vietnam's ancient water puppets afloat

Update: 18:05 | 13/06/2018

Shows at Hanoi's Thang Long theater have become a staple on the tourist circuit and draw thousands every week.

Tourism sector, Vietnam's ancient art, water puppets, Thang Long theater, tourist circuit, wooden dragon,  centuries-old art form

Vietnam is the birthplace of the centuries-old art of water puppets, which emerged in the northern rice paddies as entertainment for farmers. Photo by AFP/Manan Vatsyayana.

In a darkened theater in central Hanoi, a wooden dragon emerges from a pool to the sound of cymbals crashing in a traditional water puppet show that lures hundreds of tourists daily but is largely shunned by locals.

Backstage behind a thin bamboo screen, around 20 puppeteers slosh around waist-deep in rubber overalls wielding the marionettes with long rods.

"The puppets are pretty heavy... and the water also creates resistance," said puppeteer Nguyen Thu Hoai, who swapped her galoshes for flip-flops between sold-out shows.

"But our years of training and experience helps us control them," added Hoai, who like many of her colleagues graduated from Hanoi's College of Theater and Cinema.

Some of the puppets weigh as much as 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and the largest ones, like the one-meter-tall (three-foot) fairy, require four people to manipulate.

The shows at Hanoi's Thang Long theater have become a staple on the well-trodden tourist circuit and draw thousands every week, including many first-time viewers.

Tourism sector, Vietnam's ancient art, water puppets, Thang Long theater, tourist circuit, wooden dragon,  centuries-old art form

The shows traditionally featured age-old fables and mythical lore, like the famous Hanoi parable about a Vietnamese king's treasured sword that was used to fight off Chinese invaders. Photo by AFP/Manan Vatsyayana.

"I've never seen a puppet show that way with the water," American tourist Caroline Thomoff told after a show. "I could really see people fishing, dancing and all the different performances that happened."

Vietnam is the birthplace of the centuries-old art form that emerged in the northern rice paddies as entertainment for farmers.

The earliest record of the performances is on a 12th centurystele that still stands at a pagoda in the northern Ha Nam province, but historians say water puppetry likely originated even earlier.

The shows traditionally featured age-old fables and mythical lore, like the famous Hanoi parable about a Vietnamese king's treasured sword that was used to fight off Chinese invaders.

Source: VnExpress

 
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