What is there only in Vietnam

Water puppet theater

A Vietnamese art form

The technology is passed on from fathers to sons. The puppeteers also carve their own figures. Whether in the state puppet theater in Hanoi or at the village festival: In the traditional water puppet play, the stage is in the water while the audience sits in the dry.

The puppeteers cannot be seen. You stand behind a stage wall and move the 30 to 70 centimeter high wooden figures from there. How they do this and which tricks they use remain hidden from the audience. A small orchestra with Vietnamese musical instruments accompanies the performance.

The origins

The village art of water puppet theater originated in the 11th century in the Red River delta. The lowlands in northern Vietnam were so often hit by floods that the farmers came up with the idea of ​​playing puppet shows in the water instead of in the country. The stage was set up again for each performance in the rice fields, in the river or in a lake.

The performances were the attraction at the big village festivals. The pieces are based on the everyday life of the rural population. Scenes from agriculture and fishing were taken up.

But the water puppets were also popular at the rulers' courts. This art form experienced a heyday there, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. The players added war and hero stories to their repertoire to suit the tastes of the rulers.

In addition to the original rural form of the theater, a second, courtly tradition developed in this way, in which it was more elegant and fairytale-like. Heroism played an essential role in this. Legends from the history of Vietnam and especially from the resistance struggle against the Chinese emerged.

During the war against the French, many pieces were created that were directed against the colonial rulers. They were banned by them, and many theater companies were disbanded.

After the war, the art of water puppetry was revived. The close cohesion in the villages made it possible to continue the tradition of the water puppet theater in the north of the country.

The content

The repertoire of the water puppet game still consists of everyday and short theater scenes. As in the past, rural life is re-enacted in the everyday scenes. The figures fish, plow, harvest and draw water like the rural population. Stories from classical literature or legends from Vietnamese history are told in the theater scenes.

The audience usually knows the pieces very well and accompanies them with laughter and shouts. The special skill of the players and the skill with which they act are followed with great attention.

State subsidies

In earlier centuries almost every village had its own water puppet troupe, which also made tours of the area. Today this folk tradition is only preserved in a few villages.

But on the stages of the big cities, the water puppet game is now being run professionally and with state subsidies - an attraction for locals as well as tourists. The Thang Long Theater on Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi is Vietnam's most famous theater. Every evening there are two performances that are attended by hundreds of tourists.

On the Long Tri Lake, 40 kilometers west of Hanoi, you can also experience a more original form of peasant theater during the Chùa Thây pagoda festival. The water puppet theater is now known all over the world. The "National Water Puppet Theater Hanoi" toured Europe several times.