Rediscovered song gives birth to a film

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French dancer Cléo de Mérode performed Vu khuc Dong Duong at the Paris exhibition in 1900 when she was 25. Mérode, who started studying ballet at seven at the Opera Ballet School in Paris, was dubbed "˜la reine de beaute' (goddess of beauty) and known in Europe for her talent.

Inspired by the discovery of the century-old musical score of Vu khuc Dong Duong (Indochinese dance) in March, several screenwriters and film scholars have produced a script of the same name that will be turned into a film.

At the announcement of the completed screenplay in Ho Chi Minh City early this week, writer Ngo Thi Hanh told Tuoi Tre newspaper that the film's plot was partly based on true events that occurred in My Tho, the main town of Tien Giang Province to the south, in 1900.

That was the year when Vu khuc Dong Duong, whose score is believed to be the oldest surviving example of the southern musical genre known as don ca tai tu, was performed at the Paris World Exhibition in the French capital.

The film expands upon the true story of the band of tai tu musicians and their leader, the renowned dan kim player Nguyen Tong Trieu, who played at the Minh Tan Hotel and Casino Theater (the dan kim is a guitar-like instrument with two strings).

It was Trieu's band that played Vu khuc Dong Duong, accompanied by the French dancer Cléo de Mérode, at the Paris exhibition in 1900 as well as at the Exhibition Colony in Marseille in 1906 thanks to an invitation from a rich man named Viang.

Their tale is presented through the eyes of a 25-year-old woman living in the 21st century who learns that there was an intimate relationship between her great grandfather and the French dancer and from here imagines all sorts of things about her great grandparents.

Vu khuc Dong Duong will be filmed in My Tho, Paris and Marseille, Hanh said.

The team in charge of making the film will be presented to the public in August. It comprises Nguyen Le Tuyen of the Australian National University; Professor Yves Defrance of Rennes University, France; author and screenwriter Ngo Thi Hanh of Phuong Nam Corp; film director Huy Moeller of the Saigon International Film School; and Vietnamese-Australian scholar Nguyen Duc Hiep.

The film is part of the Indochina Theater project which was launched by the team in July. The theater project also includes a website which serves as an online theater to presenting the 113-year-old song. For the exhibition in 1900, a theater called Indochina was built in five months, and then dismantled right after the event.

On September 27, the 138th anniversary of Cléo de Mérode's birth, a book will be published to detail the history of cai luong, hat boi and other musical genres in Vietnam's south in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The authors are Nguyen Duc Hiep and Nguyen Le Tuyen, who found the score of Vu khuc Dong Duong in the French National Library.

The score, with improvisations included, was written by the French musicologist and ethnologist Julien Tiersot after seeing it performed at the 1900 fair.

For the first time in more than one century, the song was performed live in Ho Chi Minh City on July 5. Soon after it was introduced by Vietnamese artists at the 42nd World Conference of the International Council for Traditional Music in Shanghai, China, on July 11-17.

UNESCO is considering don ca tai tu for recognition as part of the world's cultural intangible heritage.

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