Preparations are being finalised for the biennial Hue Festival which will officially open in less than two months. With the theme ‘Cultural Heritage with Integration and Development', the nine-day event is expected to attract a record number of foreign troupes.
Culture Vulture caught up with the director of the festival's opening and closing ceremonies Le Ngoc Cuong, vice standing president of the Viet Nam Association of Dancing Artists.
You have worked on the eight consecutive festivals. Is it an honour for you?
To be honest, anything I do at my age  is for the honour, not for the money. I always take full responsibility for the projects I undertake, and make full use of all available resources. I'm also open to any comments or criticism.
Talent and experience is one thing. Responsibility will sustain our work in the long term. The province pays for the festival, so they want to see the results. If not, they would not have worked with me for such a long time. Capacity, creativity and responsibility are key criteria for organising an event like this.
How do you continue to entertain audiences?
I've worked on opening and closing ceremonies at eight festivals, and their artistic impression has always been a priority. Foreign troupes that come to perform here are beginning to realise that our ability to hold international festivals is rapidly improving.
For each festival, I spend lots of time studying the former royal capital city to gain an in-depth and thorough understanding of the historical land. I've also learned from previous experience, which enables me to move on and improve each year.
In addition, each performance has to be different in terms of both stage design and content.
For Hue, it's not simply a matter of staging single acts. The programme must reflect the overall picture of the city's culture and potential, while incorporating national and international features.
Can you give us more details about the opening ceremony?
The opening ceremony plays a decisive role, "grooming" spectators for the following activities.
At the Hue Festival 2014, the two-hour opening ceremony is divided into three parts. The first two depict local and national cultural heritage, while the final part looks at the country's global integration. Both Vietnamese and international art troupes will perform at the opening night on April 12.
Works from installations to sound and light shows will be closely incorporated to create the most engaging effects.
For example, in 2008, the ceremony took place on the Huong River. On that occasion, I created an unexpected scene for spectators where tens of frogmen concealed themselves underwater and suddenly rose to create a river of flame.
As far as I'm concerned, the performances must be creative, theatrical and spontaneous to draw the audience in. They attend the festivals not just for the spectacle, but for a more meaningful experience that they can relate to. Optical effects are very important because seeing is believing. If you fail to draw them in once, they will never come back. This year, I intend to increase the contemporary aspect, which must stem from tradition. I have not used ca Hue [a form of royal music] for several years. Audiences get bored with repetition of something that is often performed in everyday life. That's why I've decided to combine it with classical music, a dialogue between ca Hue and piano, like a dialogue between East and West.
How have the Hue festivals contributed to Viet Nam's culture and heritage?
Because of our economic conditions, it is difficult to organise international tours so that local artists can present the typical features and artistic quality of Vietnamese art and culture. For instance, our National Symphony Orchestra is one of the best in the region, but we cannot afford to send our musicians on world tours.
The Hue festivals have opened up opportunities for our artists to showcase our most authentic values to foreign audiences. Other countries, including our major partner France, have recognised our art performances.
Generally speaking, it is important to make full use of culture to develop tourism. I have been to other countries like France, Japan and South Korea and witnessed their successes. Policies have been formed here to invest in culture, but they have yet to reach fruition. — VNS