Performing art

Water puppet (Mua roi nuoc)
Vietnam’s water puppet theatre dates back to the 11th century, and this thriving art form has moved from rural lakes to royal courts, big town theatres and international arts festivals... entertaining packed houses with its timeless themes.

The performance of water puppetry is closely related to the rice civilization in Vietnam, originally a folk art of farmers to entertain on the fields. The natural water bodies in the villages (lakes, ponds) serve as a stage called "Dinh Thuy." The puppeteers manipulate their puppets with bamboo sticks and string wading in the water behind a bamboo curtain.

A band usually accompanies the show to give it music and rhythm. The performances consist of two acts, each telling a legend or an episode in the history of Vietnam.

Now, this art is also performed on the modern stage of the Thang Long Theatres or on outdoor pond at the Museum of Ethnography in Hanoi.


Quan họ

Quan họ singing is a Vietnamese folk music style characterized both by its antiphonal nature, with alternating groups of female and male singers issuing musical challenges and responses, and by the fact that most of the songs in the repertoire deal with topics of love and sentimentality as experienced by young adults. Quan họ is recognised as the Intangible Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO in 2009.

The quan họ style originated in what is now Bắc Ninh Province and was first recorded in the 13th century, and has traditionally been associated with the spring festivals that follow the celebration of Tết (the Vietnamese New Year). Historically, the singing began on the evening before the festival, but today it is much more common for the singing to occur on the main day of the festival. In general, an initial "challenge phrase" (câu ra) from the known body of songs is sung by a pair of female singers, following which a pair of male singers will respond by selecting and singing a "matching phrase" (câu đối), which must repeat the melody of the challenge phrase. Once they are finished, the order is reversed, and the men will issue their own challenge phrase with a different melody. While in the past the singing was unaccompanied, it is common today for the singers to be accompanied by instruments, whether traditional Vietnamese instruments or modern ones such as electric keyboards.

There are a huge number of quan họ melodies, with thousands of different songs having been recorded and written down in score form.

Ethnic music and dance

Each ethnic group in Vietnam has its own dance troupe and dancing festival. The Thai gathering dance or rower dance (Mua Xoe) is truly a feast for the eyes. This takes place twice a year at the Festival of Tay and Thai in Lao Cai. Originally, it is done by girls to get noticed or allured a partner.

Dance of the Kho Mu minority: Khmu dance festival is a tribute to the goddess of rice. Relying on rice, Kho Mu people believe in the existence of the soul of rice. The festival is organized before the times of sowing and harvest.

Each minority has its own type of music but in general it can be divided into broader categories including children songs, love songs, work songs, festival songs, lullabies and funeral songs. Sometimes, they are generalized as folk songs. Nobody knows their authentic authors who usually get inspired and let their strong feelings flow out in the form of proverbs or folk poems. Folk songs can be sung without instrumental accompaniment with rhythm depending greatly on the mood of the singers. Folk songs are popular among people for the ease of memorizing. Indeed, this type of music is absorbed into Vietnamese’s blood with deep touch in their hearts and souls. They are the very first teaching on the way to ethical conduct and behaviors and even knowledge on how to deal with life situations.

Classical music is much more rigid. It was performed at the imperial court and for the entertainment of the elite. There are also other types of classical chamber music such as hat a dao of the North, ca hue of the Central and don ca tai tu of the South which are loved by many foreign visitors to Vietnam.