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Cultural Water Puppets Show Of Vietnam

November 19th, 2010 by

Upon completing our check in formalities at the Hanoi Plaza Hotel, we informed them that we were interested in watching the Water Puppets Show.  They immediately sent one of their staff members to the Thang Long Puppet Theater to purchase tickets as these get sold out easily.

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Water Puppetry is a known art in all of Vietnam.  This tradition originated around the 11th century in the villages of the Red River Delta where there were numerous lakes and ponds.  Its popularity reached its peak during the 18th century when guilds started to offer various performances. The water puppets, about a meter tall each, were made from the bark of a jackfruit tree and painted using plant extracts.   These wooden puppets were coated in lacquer to maintain their tip top shape even with constant contact with water.

During ancient times, those who lived in the provinces firmly believed that certain spirits guided them in their daily lives.  The water puppet art form was put together mainly to glorify these spirits and also to entertain them that they may continue to bless the Vietnamese people with bountiful harvests and good health.

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In the classic art form, the rice paddies that were overflowing with water after a harvest served as the performing stage and members of the audience simply gathered around the water’s edge.  Both male and female puppeteers stood waist-deep in the water and used large rods to maneuver the movements of the wooden puppets on the surface of the water.  Given that resources were limited then, the puppeteers used the water both to camouflage the puppets’ rods and also to create a realistic set for the entire story.

Nowadays, the water puppet show is usually held in three different venues – in traveling tanks for mobile performers, in village ponds like in provinces, and in theaters where a three to four meters deep pool is constructed to serve as the stage for the show.

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We got to watch the famous Vietnamese Water Puppets Show at the Thang Long Puppet Theater in Hanoi.  This theater can be found at the northeast end of the Hoan Kiem Lake.  As expected, the place was full to the brim and all tickets were sold out for that entire day.  Members of the audience were given two kinds of programs – one in Vietnamese and another one in English.  I had to pay an extra VND 15,000 to use my camera during the show.  They charged double for video cameras.

The puppeteers stood on waist-deep water and controlled the puppets using thick bamboo rods from behind a dark screen that was designed to look like a temple.  In addition to the rods, a string mechanism was also used but remained hidden beneath the surface of the water. As for the puppets, they entered from both sides of the stage and at times they even emerged on the stage from beneath the water.

I also noticed that a special space was set up for a group of singers on the right side of the stage.  There were various instruments set up like cymbals, horns, gongs, and drums just to name a few.  The singers basically sang songs that told the story that were acted out by the water puppets.

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Storylines of the water puppet show were put together based on different themes such as folklore, legends, national history or everyday living, intertwining stories on fishing, the harvest, and local festivals.  During the show, certain symbolic creatures like unicorns, phoenix, and dragons sometimes appear.  The ones about the daily lives of the people were usually laden with comedic antics and humor.

The water puppets show is a definite must-see for all visitors of Vietnam.

Tourists in Ho Chi Minh City can catch the Water Puppets Show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater.  Likewise, advance booking is highly recommended.

Thang Long Puppet Theatre
Address:  57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hanoi, Vietnam
Telephone Number:  84.4.8249494
Fax Number: 84.4.8245117
Ticket Price: VND 40,000

2 Responses to “Cultural Water Puppets Show Of Vietnam”

  1. dana Says:

    Something we must see while in Vietnam

  2. rezy Says:

    interesting!!! nice article:)

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