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Cheo remains in the hearts of the youth

Update: August, 17/2014 - 17:35

by Thuy Hien and An Vu

As the country becomes part of the fast-paced global village, today's young Vietnamese are constantly bombarded with the latest world trends in dance and music, such as K-pop, dance, hip hop.

In spite of this, traditional dance and music remains in the hearts of a growing number of youth and students. In recent years, a group of young people have adapted themselves to the mastery of cheo (traditional opera), the cultural speciality of the nation.

In particular, a project called Cheo 48h - Toi cheo ve que huong (48 hours of cheo - I row a boat back to my homeland), founded by the National Cheo- orgraphics and sponsored by the non-profit social organisation Toi 20 (Twenties), is attracting favourable attention among a number of students in various schools in and around Ha Noi. The project was started in July and will finished at the end of August.

True to its name, Toi 20 is an organisation of students here and abroad that takes active part in community projects facing a lack of funds and other concerns.

Surprisingly, students have responded to this group with enthusiasm. Nguyen Thi Thu Tra, 22, a student at Ha Noi University of Science's Environment Faculty and a managing board member of Toi 20, says the project has successfully brought young people together.

"Toi 20 is being operated by more than 30 members with diversified curriculum vitae in various high schools, colleges and universities," Tra says.

"It aims to encourage and motivate young people to take part in projects and activities that are tailor-made for them. One example of this is Cheo in 48 Hours, which has won the top award in "The ideas of my twenty-year-old competition".

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Anh, managing head of the project, cited a recent survey among students aged 13 to 22 in schools in and around Ha Noi. It showed that 89 per cent of the students found education on Vietnamese folk culture and art to be boring while 11 per cent wanted to learn more about cheo but had no idea where and how to do so.

The thirst for traditional culture is now being quenched at a cheo class in the Ha Noi Academy of Theatre and Cinema. Most of the students are 20 years old or under. Previously, studying cheo was difficult for them, since textbooks and online class materials were usually written in ancient Han (Chinese) and Nom (Vietnamese) scripts.

Now, collecting and synthesising their own personal experiences with those of teachers and senior students, they have begun to understand traditional folk songs, dances and narration.

This was clearly demonstrated at the Cheo 48 Hours Gala, which was held on August 9 at the Kim Ngan Communal House on 42 Hang Bac Street, Hoan Kiem District.

Le Tuan Cuong, director of the Ha Noi Cheo Theatre, and Khuong Cuong, artistic adviser, directed the show that featured the debut of Cheo's excellent classical drama, Xa Truong-Me Dop (Village Chief and Mother Dop). The show received tremendous applause from an audience of mostly young adults.

Giap Trong Duc, a student of the National University of Art Education, expresses excitement over his debut in the role of a village chef. An art student who dreams of becoming a theatre director someday, Duc did not miss a single day of his folklore art classes which he found to be totally enriching.

"I thought cheo was old-fashioned and only about issues (of concern) during the time of my father, but I did not know it had such an amazing ability to enable one to reflect (deeply) on the big problems of life and society," Duc says.

Nguyen Thanh Ha, a graduate of Ha Noi University, found cheo class far more captivating than a job. Developing an instant infatuation for this synthesis of folk art, Ha says she has never been happier, after she was entrusted with the role of Mother Dop.

"I had numerous opportunities to meet people from around the world. So I had to know my country's culture and traditions by heart, in order to present them to foreign friends (in a positive light)," Ha says.

"As a graduate, I had more time and found out about Cheo 48 Hours on social networking sites. After a short course, I became quite confident and felt like the cultural ambassador of my own country. If I cannot find a proper job, I will continue to study cheo and its quintessence. However, I had the idea we should "renew" cheo instead of replacing it, by adding fresh topics to make it up-to-date, while preserving its traditional values," she adds.

For his part, Cuong says the project has proved that a good number of young people had not yet turned their backs on traditional values. This is why he volunteered to be the theatre's artistic advisor.

"It is great to know that most of the students in this class can understand and love cheo, and at the end of each session, they have given this traditional genre a special kind of affection," Cuong says.

"In so short a time, using their own experience and through self-study, they have not only grasped the idea of cheo but also discovered how to develop it and make it more popular," he says.

"I was really surprised by their wisdom and enthusiasm, and it is a good sign that cheo will continue to be handed down to future generations," he adds. — VNS

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