History of Vietnamese Water Puppets
|A Vietnamese Water Puppet|
Performance of Water Puppets
Up to 8 puppeteers stand behind a split-bamboo screen, decorated to resemble a temple facade, and control the puppets using long bamboo rods and string mechanism hidden beneath the water surface. Many of the puppets can be quite heavy, up to 15 kilos (30 pounds) or so, so holding them up away from the puppeteers body is physically strenuous and might account for why puppeteers were traditionally all male.
|A puppet from the famous|
Buddhist "ox-driver" parable
A traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides the music accompaniment for the performance. Its instrumentation includes vocals, drums, wooden bells, cymbals, horns, Đàn bầu (monochord), gongs, and bamboo flutes. The bamboo often accompanies puppets of royalty or high status while the drums and cymbals are used for exciting and dynamic scenes such as a dragon's entrance. The puppets story is told by a traditional North Vietnamese opera choir called chèo who often voice over the puppets' actions. However, the musicians sometimes add vocals as well, such as shouting to a puppet to watch out. One imagines that in traditional performances audiences may have participated in the same way, shouting our their encouragement or expressing their consternation with the puppet's antics.
Event though performances are in Vietnamese, foreign audiences will still appreciate the puppeteers skills and be able to laugh at their antics. Among these performances, the most interesting are probably the dragons spurting fire and water or the synchonized "fairy dance" in which the puppets inexplicably seem to cross paths. How is water spurted out from dragons with multi-sectioned bodies? How to set off fireworks when dragons are in the water? How do puppets on bamboo poles and strings cross paths? They are wonderful secrets from the hundred-year experience of Vietnamese water puppetry.
Where to See Vietnamese Water Puppets
|Vietnamese puppets at the|
Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre
in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh CityThe Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre puts on two nightly shows at 5:00 and at 6:30. The shows are 50 minutes long with no intermission and are completely performed in Vietnamese although multilingual programs are available. The theatre is located about a 10 minute walk from the Ben Thanh Market and is just a couple minutes from the Independence Palace. It is located at 55 Bis Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Dist. 1 in Ho Chi Minh City. You must book at least one day in advance to get a seat during most times, and it is not unusual during high season for performances to be fully booked three and four days in advance. Your hotel or guesthouse can usually make a booking for you.
The Thanglong Water Puppet TheatreThe Thanglong Water Puppet Theatre has five performances each day at 4:00, 5:15, 6:30, 8:00 and 9:15. Show are about 50 minutes long with no intermission. The performances completely performed in Vietnamese although multilingual programs are available here as well. The theatre is located at 57b Dinh Tien Hoang Str., Hanoi and is well known. You should definitely book in advance as the Thanglong shows are even more popular than its southern cousin, and you should try to book two days in advance whenever possible. Again, during high season performances sometimes fill up three or four days in advance despite the multiple showings. Also be aware there is a separate camera fee and a video fee; the latter is the same price as you pay for admission.
To learn more about Vietnamese Water Puppets, you can visit the following links:
- An Article on the History and Construction of Vietnamese Water Puppets
- Photos of Vietnamese Water Puppets
- Vietnamese Water Puppets on Wikipedia
- A 60 page academic thesis on the development and modern Vietnamese puppet theatre