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Man revives passion for ancient royal dance

Update: April, 08/2014 - 08:30
Comeback: A performance of Bat dat dance in An Khe Commune, Thai Binh Province. With assistance from the Viet Nam Institue for Culture and Arts Studies in 2013, the ancient dance is being performed again. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Tam

by Thu Hoai

Ngo Trong Phan has successfully restored Bat dat, an ancient royal dance that has not been performed for more than 80 years.

Bat dat is a dance to welcome victory and pray for a peaceful life. Originally it was performed by 64 dancers divided into eight rows, said Phan, who lives in Quynh Phu District, An Khe Commune, Thai Binh Province. He has spent nearly 10 years compiling documents and interviewing elderly people about the dance.

When he was put in charge of managing the Hiep Luc communal house, Phan, 59, was determined to revive the dance.

"Despite fierce wars against foreign invaders and other hardships, our ancestors handed down many traditional dances. If we can't preserve this valuable culture, we won't be doing justice to our ancestors," he said.

In 2002, he began collecting documents about the dance and sought out elderly villagers who once enjoyed it. Among them was Ngo Van Rien, who died last year at the age of 100, and Ngo Trong At, Ngo Quang Quang and Ngo Quang Thiem, who were skilled drummers during the offering ceremony.

"Rien told me about the dance while Thiem gave me many details of the dance. Their help was crucial," Phan said.

In addition, he went to ask many others in surrounding villages about the dance.

"Some of them still remembered, while others had only vague memories. But they were all helpful for me in restoring the dance," Phan said.

In 2012, Phan finished compiling documents and simplified the dance from 64 dancers to 16. However, he found it difficult to find dancers because almost all the women in his commune are farmers and are very busy working in the fields.

"I had to go to each woman's house to invite them to join the dance group," Phan said.

Phan and his troupe practise whenever they are free, during day or night. With assistance from the Institute of Culture and Arts, the troupe performed at many ceremonies and festivals at Hai Ba Trung Temple in Thai Binh and Le Chan Temple in the port city of Hai Phong.

"We help to preserve the ancient custom. It's also an opportunity for rural farmers like me to visit other areas," said dancer Ngo Thi Hoan.

The troupe uses some of the money they earn to improve their performance and donates the rest to charity.

Legend has it that the dance appeared during the first century CE and was created by the Trung sisters of legend. After defeating the Han invaders, the sisters held a large feast for their troops and performed the dance.

General Le Do, who helped the sisters fight the invaders and came from Dong Luc (the old name for Hiep Luc), recorded the dance and handed it down to villagers. In the year 43 CE, Do died in battle and people in his village built a temple to worship him. The official worship festival is held on the 10th lunar day of the eighth lunar month, his birthday.

Phan is now trying to preserve hat ong folk songs. Despite being unpaid, he feels the result is rewarding enough. — VNS


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