Youth club sparks interest in traditional arts

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A group of less than 15 young people in Hanoi are pulling off monthly meetings that attract hundreds interested in a variety of issues including traditional art forms.


This is suprising at a time theaters of traditional performance arts are struggling to survive audiences' indifference.


First founded as a project of environmental photography by several Vietnamese students studying abroad in 2005, the Hanoi-based GreenZoom has now become a group of young volunteers who work to establish communities sharing their concerns about a range of social problems including culture and the environment.


One of their projects is to hold talks by experts who are either scholars or artists in traditional arts, usually every month.


The talks are not limited to performance arts like tuong (classical theater form based on Chinese opera), and cheo (a form of satirical musical theater, often encompassing dance, traditionally performed by Vietnamese peasants in the north), but also cover other arts like painting and making to he (toy figurines made of glutinous rice powder).


During each two-hour talk named Tro chuyen nghe thuat (Art Talk), participants have the chance to watch performances and even join them by practicing a dance of tuong, or singing a couple of quan ho (love duet singing) tunes.


Mai Duc Tuan, a student of the Hanoi Law University who attended GreenZoom's recent talk on tuong, said: "Before attending the talk, I only knew that tuong was a traditional performance art.


"But I'd never been told about tuong's history and how good it is, and never thought that I will have the chance to perform tuong."


Nearly 200 young people who attended the talk held at the Hong Ha Theater also did not know much about tuong but they still enjoyed it, not minding that weekends are usually spent on other "modern" recreational activities.


"We came [to this talk] after being told of it by our friends and because we love GreenZoom's method of art talk," said Ha Thu, a student from the University of Foreign Trade.


Since the first talk on oil painting held in September, 2008, the group has so far organized more than 16 talks on various subjects.


While the talks help young people access traditional arts, Nguyen Thu Thuy, coordinator of the Art Talk project, said more importantly, what the group is doing shows that the youth are interested in both traditional and contemporary arts.


"We have attracted many young people, because we are also among them. There are still many young people, like us, who want to learn about our ancestors' traditional values," she said.


In fact, GreenZoom's achievements have won the heart of many experts, brightening their hopes about the future of traditional arts in the country.


Artist Bach Van from Bich Cau Club of Ca Tru (ceremonial songs) said: "There still are young people who love ca tru and come to us to enjoy it. Although there aren't many, they have strengthened our belief after every night of performance."


Hoang Khiem, director of Vietnam Tuong Theater, said: "We have to say thank you to the young people. They have taught us many things. They have showed us ways to attract audiences to theaters."


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