Making splash

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An art form unique to Vietnam that makes waves wherever it goes will reach the shores of Japan this week.

Two tons of equipment including dozens of puppets and even a pool had been shipped to Japan several weeks ago to present to Japanese audiences, especially children and the youth, authentic water puppetry performances.

Seventeen members of the Ho Chi Minh City-based Rong Vang (Golden Dragon) Water Puppet Theater will take part in the Kijimuna Festa 2009, a prestigious art festival for children and young audiences held in Tokyo and Okinawa.

The delegation, comprising of one producer, three directors, six musicians and seven actors, will present 18 performances spread over seven shows from July 20 to August 6.

Huynh Anh Tuan, owner of the Golden Dragon theater, told the Tuoi Tre newspaper the performances will introduce Vietnamese customs, folk activities and daily life in rural areas. The dragon and phoenix dances, rearing of ducks, fishing and boat racing are some of the scenes that will be enacted.

Traditional music including cheo (northern folk opera) will accompany the performances, bringing to the audiences another fascinating, long-established folk art from Vietnam, Tuan said.

The shows will also feature the famous legend of King Le Loi (1385-1433) and the Sword Lake in Hanoi.

Legend has it that the king had been lent a magic sword by the Golden Turtle God to defeat the Chinese Ming invaders in the 14th century, and after he accomplished the task, he returned it to a turtle in the lake, giving it its name.


The Kijimuna Festa organizers, while making a survey of Southeast Asian traditional arts in November 2007, visited HCMC and were attracted by Golden Dragon's performances, Tuan told media in a press briefing last week.

They invited the theater's managers to attend last year's event to learn about the festival, Tuan said.

"I'm very happy and proud to present Vietnam's unique water puppetry to young Japanese audiences.

"I hope spectators will be amazed by the vivid wooden puppets and the technique of decorating them with lacquer," he said.

Water puppetry has been showcased to foreign audiences many times but only through tours by state-owned troupes like the Central Water Puppet Theater and the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater.

Luck played a part in helping Golden Dragon break the tradition, Tuan said, as the festival organizers came to the theater's performances by chance during their November trip.

The Japanese had also visited other theaters in Vietnam before selecting his, Tuan added.

"Maybe they liked the colorful and festive atmosphere of Golden Dragon's shows."

Kijimuna Festa is an annual art festival held in Okinawa in the summer, mainly to entertain children and young audiences and introduce them to different kinds of art forms including dramas, puppetry and music, as well as exhibitions and comics.

The festival is open to participants of all ages, from below 5 to 12 and above with a wide range of activities tailored for each age group.

Organizers also aim to promote cultural exchanges between nations with various seminars and workshops held during the event.

This year's event will be held in Okinawa and Tokyo with 63 performances from 13 countries and territories including France, Australia, Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam and hosts Japan.

Tuan said he admired how Japan spent money and effort to introduce the younger generations to art.

"Japanese children are so blessed, being educated to appreciate beauty and art from a young age," Tuan said.

"I think we need to learn that from Japan."

Puppeteer of the show

Tuan has dedicated most of his art managing career to entertain young audiences and rescuing water puppetry from falling into oblivion in modern times.

The IDECAF Theater â€" a familiar venue for HCMC drama lovers established by Tuan in 1997 and located inside the Institute of Cultural Exchange with France â€" has dedicated much time to children's plays and produced hits for the younger audience almost every summer.

"I love seeing young faces light up with joy at art works meant especially for them," Tuan told Thanh Nien Daily in a recent interview.

He collaborated with the Cultural Labor Palace in opening up the Rong Vang Water Puppet Theater, Vietnam's first private water puppet theater, at 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St., Dist. 1, in 2007.

"Several water puppetry groups had been formed around the country, but they all ended in failure. Many, therefore, considered my decision to begin the theater risky and irrational.

"But I don't fear difficulty. I love water puppetry and I believe it's a traditional Vietnamese feature that must be preserved by all means."

Since its opening, the theater has received some 200 visitors per night, half of which are foreign.

In Vietnam, traditional water puppetry was originally performed in rural villages in the Red River Delta some 1,000 years ago.

It was not until 1958 that water puppetry was first displayed in Hanoi and the first state-run puppetry group was established to serve public audiences in 1973.

Vietnamese water puppetry was introduced abroad for the first time in France in 1984. Since then, this original art has traveled to many places around the world including the US, Mexico, Korea and Japan.

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