Cultural Values of Nguyen Xa Traditional Water Puppet Troupe
With a long history of about 700 years, Nguyen Xa troupe is proud to be one of water puppet cradles in Vietnam.
Nguyen Xa Traditional Water Puppet Troupe
700-year History of Nguyen Xa Traditional Water Puppet Troupe
Traditional water puppetry of Nguyen Xa troupe which was invented by farmers (Nguyen Xa Ward, Dong Hung District, Thai Binh Province has come into being for about 700 years. The unique identity of this art has been preserved from generation to generation. At first, there were just several puppeteers, but over the time, more people joined this performing art and they gathered to form a troupe as today.
Water puppetry – a folk art form of Viet people in the Northern Delta – has a close relationship with the life in the countryside. Over many centuries, at a certain point of time, there used to be three troupes (including Bac Lang, Tay, Dong) led by privates who were called “the troupe boss”. In 1961, People’s Committee of Nguyen Xa Ward merged the three water puppet troupes and three cheo troupes (including Da Giang, Nam Ninh, Dong Khe) into a big one named Nguyen Xa traditional water puppet troupe.
The golden age of Nguyen Xa troupe lasted from 1956 to 1975. At that time, Nguyen Xa’s puppeteers did not only perform in their locality but also were invited to perform in other cities and provinces by the Culture Ministry such as: The Art Performing Contest of the North (1958), The Water Puppetry Festival of the North in Hanoi (1960) and the art exchange program with RADOST puppetry troupe of Czechoslovakia. They also performed in many big cities of China, France, Japan, Soviet Union, Italia, etc. and achieved the gold medal. In those countries, local and Vietnamese audience welcomed them warmly and expressed sentiments toward puppeteers and their unique and interesting performances.
Where Ancient Water Puppet Performances & Techniques Are Preserved
Like 16 other traditional water puppet troupe and two professional theatres, Nguyen Xa troupe’s performances have a close relationship with the daily life of Vietnamese people in the Northern Delta, such as: MC Teu, Flag raising, Housework, Frog fishing, Fishing, Productive Labours, Swinging, Children swimming, Lion dancing, Dance of the eight fairies,… However, Nguyen Xa troupe’s performances have their own characteristics: There are so many puppets used to perform with a lot of actions that the audience can be satisfied, interested and curious. For example, there are up to five puppets performing actions and dialogues harmoniously in the Housework performance when other troupes have only two or three puppets with simple and less interesting actions and gestures.
Fox Catching Ducks
Dance of Eight Fairies
Water Puppet Techniques Inherited from Puppeteers Full of Passion
That water puppet technique of Nguyen Xa troupe includes both the pole and string mechanism surprises audience performance by performance, for example, in the Fox catching ducks performance, after wading through the water, the fox immediately climbs up the areca tree. For another example, in the Dance of the eight fairies performance, the actions of arm waving and face turning of the eight fairies have actually made the audience of all ages praise and admire this unique performing art form.
If the artistic value of water puppets are of its stability, that of manipulation mechanism is of its locomotion. This is a key factor of a water puppet show’s success. Nguyen Xa troupe has 2 types of manipulation machine including the pole mechanism and the string mechanism. The pole mechanism has a pole made of bamboo or wood and metal which is 1.5 – 2m long and big enough for people to hold. One end of the pole is attached to the base and can be separated when the puppet is not used. Performances using the pole mechanism include Productive labours, Buffalo fighting, Four sacred animal dancing, etc.
Puppeteer instructing his grandson to perform water puppetry
The string mechanism is a system of strings used to manipulate puppets. Under the water, ropes are stretched between submerged stakes. There is also a tool called xổng so that puppets can move easily across square corners. Puppets are attached to the string, puppeteers behind bamboo shades pull one string and release the other like a pulley to move the puppet. Nguyen Xa troupe has 7 performances that used the string mechanism including Flower offering, Four deities, Five-direction funeral march , Palanquin procession, Flag raising, Lion dancing, Fishing. Among those performances, Five-direction funeral march owns the most difficult string mechanism which uses 100 meters of string but it’s also the most interesting one. Whenever the troupe joined a water puppet contest, this performance always achieved the gold medal. The content of Nguyen Xa troupe’s performances are related to the daily life of farmers, festivals and historic events. In the past, the troupe has 38 performances lasting three hours but now there are only 24 performances remaining and 18 of which are old performances.
To promote historical and artistic values of Nguyen Xa traditional water puppet troupe, Long link Vietnam has invited this troupe to perform at the water pavilion of the Vietnam’s Museum of Ethnology (Hanoi) to serve domestic and foreign tourists. Here, visitors can not only enjoy ten interesting performances with the technique of pole and string mechanism, but also discover secrets of the backstage, learn how to manipulate puppets and paint water puppets. Water puppet show is available from Tuesday to Sunday. On each day, the show is on at 10h, 11h15, 14h, 15h15; 16h15, 17h15.
Discover secrets of manipulation room
Learning how to control water puppets
Observe puppet-making process
By the creative method of Long link Vietnam and the enthusiasm for water puppetry of puppeteers from Nguyen Xa, tourists have had a great impression on water puppet shows at the Vietnam’s Museum of Ethnology.