Mr. Nguyen Van Tam — SunGroup Photo.
By hosting free traditional theatre and classical music shows at Sun World complexes, Sun Group wishes to encourage an appreciation of the performing arts so that they can survive and thrive in Vietnam through the 21st century.
Reviving a forgotten art
Hundreds of years ago, water puppet shows were a popular cultural activity for Vietnamese royalty and peasants alike. Many villages would have had their own troupes in those days. But very few do today. One of the last is Dao Thuc, once a countryside village, but now part of Hanoi's suburbs.
The village is still well-known for water puppets and the artisans are enthusiastic and skilled practitioners of the age-old art. But there are not many left. Like the other traditional art forms in Vietnam such as cheo, tuong and cai luong, water puppetry has struggled to find audiences in a modern society.
As a result, this is far from a lucrative occupation. Many of the artisans have to find other jobs to make a living as carpenters, mechanics and other trades. As a result, the number of guild members in Dao Thuc Village has dwindled over the years. There are less than two dozen today.
With so few opportunities for water puppeteers to find full-time work in Vietnam, Nguyen Van Tam from Quang Ninh Province was thrilled to find full-time work doing what he loves at the Moonlight Water Puppet Theatre in Sun World Halong Complex (Ha Long City, Quang Ninh Province).
“Before working for the theatre at Sun Group, I was just an artist with a great passion for water puppetry. I loved it dearly but over the course of 17 years, sometimes I thought I would have to give it up. I could barely make ends meet. Then one day, I heard that Sun Group was building the Moonlight Water Puppet Theatre at the top of Ba Deo Mountain in Ha Long. I couldn’t believe my luck when I was offered a job and was told I could start immediately,” Tam said.
Sharing the memory of his most memorable show, Tam revealed: “When I first performed in the beautiful open amphitheater, it started raining heavily but the band played on, covering their heads and instruments with umbrellas, and the audience – all dressed in raincoats – didn’t budge! It was a joyful occasion. I peaked through the curtain and I could see how the foreign visitors were really engaged by the show. They loved it. There’s no better feeling than seeing you are creating memories for an audience with a wonderful performance, especially in the middle of a downpour!”
To encourage one and all to watch a show, visitors at Sun World Halong Complex don’t have to buy a ticket to watch the water puppets - it’s completely free. The purpose of the Moonlight Water Puppet Theatre is to enrich visitors' experiences and showcase this centuries-old art form, not just in the eyes of international visitors, who are always intrigued by Vietnamese water puppet shows, but also domestic tourists, who would rarely watch a water puppet show in this day and age.
Last but not least, part of Sun Group’s motivation is to help artists like Tam pursue their life-long passion for this traditional art. The bottom line is if the most skilled practitioners can’t make a living, this unique cultural attraction would soon be a stale imitation of its former self.
The hills are alive with the sound of music
Last summer, Sun Group also set out to fill Sun World Ba Na Hills in Central Vietnam with the glorious sounds of classical music. At 11am and 2.30pm on a daily basis from July 18 to 24, the Sun Symphony Orchestra performed a 45-minute show in the middle of Beer Plaza, delighting all visitors at Sun World Ba Na Hills.
Knowing this would be a memorable, unique occasion, Sun Group Ba Na Hills invited the Sun Symphony Orchestra to perform under the baton of renowned French conductor Olivier Ochanine.
It was a wonderful opportunity for visitors to see an orchestra perform live. For those who are not familiar with classical music, there was a discernible thrill when hearing the stirring flourishes of Habanera from Carmen, the epic Blue Danube, the soft and fleeting Salut d’Amour and, yes, of course, the vibrant Sound of Music — and many more timeless melodies.
Each day the audience quickly grew and every beautifully performed piece was greeted with rapturous applause. Whether they were familiar with the work of genius composers such as Maurice Ravel, Johan Strauss Jr. or Franz von Suppé, it didn’t matter. To be high up in the mountains and hear such wonderful music was truly special for everyone.
Overcome all challenges, no matter what the cost
On a logistical level, bringing an orchestra (and all of their precious instruments) up Ba Na Mountain to an elevation of 1,500 meters wasn’t a straightforward task. All instruments were transported from Hanoi to Danang in a special container then transferred item by item to the cable car, then to a warehouse and finally the stage…
But seeing how the audiences were moved, everyone agreed it was worth the tremendous efforts to fill Sun World Ba Na Hills with the sound of classical music. As one of the top tourist destinations in Vietnam over the last four years, whether there is a world-class orchestra performing or not, this underscores that Sun World Ba Na Hills strives to deliver unique experiences of elevated quality and class in spite of the significant costs and logistical challenges.
“We desire to bring classical music to Ba Na so that visitors to this tourist site can savour an exciting cultural experience in the quintessentially European space of Ba Na,” says Nguyen Lam An, Director of Sun World Ba Na Hills. “Even though preparing a stage for a philharmonic orchestra, comprising nearly 60 musicians, and delivering all of their professional musical instruments up Ba Na Mountain, were far from easy tasks, the passionate and emotional response of the audience has further motivated us to continue delivering such elevated experiences for our guests no matter what the investment.”
As with Moonlight Water Puppet Theatre in Sun World Halong Complex, the classical music shows in Ba Na Hills highlight how Sun Group recognises that promoting culture is a great responsibility that goes beyond chasing profits. By promoting under-appreciated performing arts and classical orchestras in Vietnam, Sun Group has also shown that these precious forms of cultural entertainment can thrive with the right care and investment.