VNS- As Viet Nam treads water waiting for UNESCO recognition of water puppetry as an intangible cultural treasure, a project has been launched to pass the skills of the ancient art on to northern youngsters.
Funded by the American Ford Foundation, the project offers courses for 14 selected troupes in areas such as Dong Anh, Bac Ninh, Hai Duong, Hung Yen and Ha Nam. Each troupe has 15 participants attending a course in a half-month span.
The workshops' early days have brought some positive results. Under the guidance of five senior artisans, each young learner created and performed at least three self-devised items. These were sometimes based on old stories, but completely original items were also encouraged.
"Each troupe is now capable of performing a two-hour programme featuring between 10 and 30 items," says a project supervisor. "Several old versions were revived, and a remarkable number of new items have been created."
The project, overseen by the Performing Arts Department is part of a two-project investment worth US$100,000 by the American Ford Foundation to train young performers in water puppetry and the 1,000 year-old ca tru musical style, in order to revive a cultural treasure on the brink of disappearing.
However, organisers are concerned that competitiveness between the puppetry troupes hinders the exchange of skills.
"Some might say water puppetry is developing and better known these days. But in truth, its popularity is decreasing," says Professor To Ngoc Thanh, general secretary of the Viet Nam Association of Folk Literature and Arts. "Today, performances are restricted to professional troupes, mostly for tourists, in big cities."
Usually described by observers as "the soul of the Vietnamese rice fields," water puppetry in Viet Nam dates back many centuries. The first royal show is thought to have been staged during the Ly Dynasty, When a performance in 1121 was held to celebrate the king's longevity.