Vietnam water puppetry originated in the northern Vietnam Delta during the Ly Dynasty (1010-1225). Chronologically speaking, it is considered an ancient art form which is on the brink of extinction. Today, water puppetry is preserved by a few artists who are passionate about Vietnam’s traditional art, some of whom have decided to bring water puppetry from rural to urban areas.
Whereas Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre has been performing for many years in Hanoi, the presence of water puppetry in Saigon remains scarcely detectable, confined in the 2o-seat Performance Hall at the city’s Museum of National History. However, since August 2007, interested foreign tourists have had the chance to watch these shows at Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre.
True enough, Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre is very professional. Its air-conditioned theatre can house over 500 people. The seats are first-class and comfortable, the stage setting is modern and captivating. There are also an impressing body of talented artists working here.
The performances follow the traditional order, consisting of 17 items: Raising the Festival, The narrator: Teu, Dragon Dance, On a buffalo with a flute, Agriculture, Catching frogs, Rearing ducks and foxes, Fishing, Returning to the native land after wining the first place of nationwide exam, Lion Dance, Phoenix Dance, King Le Loi on boat tour or The Legend about “Restored Sword,” Children playing in water, Boat Racing, Kylins play with ball, Fairy Dance, Dance of Four Holy Animals. Together they give audience a glimpse of the diversity of Vietnamese culture and customs.
That said, what sets this theatre apart is its liveliness. While some other water puppetry troupes play pre-recorded introduction, music and character voices, Golden Dragon relies on the live performance of a group of artists.
Not only do these artists dub the voice of puppets, they also sing folk songs and play traditional musical instruments. Their emotions convey those of the puppets to the audience. The music and the artists voices, combined with the puppet movements, result in lively, fun and exciting performances.
Before the shows begin, these artists will take turn to play traditional musical instrument, giving the audience an opportunity to discover traditional Vietnamese music.
Leaflets in English, French, Japanese, Korean and Chinese are also provided, together with English and French interpretation during the shows. Upon their completion, the audience will also be given paper fans souvenirs.
It is said that a trip to Vietnam is incomplete without water puppet shows. All it takes is one hour, and the audience can immerse themselves in Vietnamese culture and peak at the bygone days.