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Water puppeteers find dry land on stage

Update: September, 28/2019 - 09:16


Artist Nguyễn Xuân Long plays the role of American Dragon. — VNS Photo Lê Bích

by Minh Thu

HÀ NỘI — Puppeteer Nguyễn Xuân Long had been hidden behind the curtain at Thăng Long Water Puppetry Theatre for more than 10 years, charged with controlling the puppet of an old man catching fish.

He had never appeared in front of the audience before, but that's all changed with the release of Mơ Rồng (Dragon’s Dream), a new experimental work produced by the theatre.

Directed and written by Lê Quý Dương, the piece is an imaginative story reflecting the urgent problems facing the world such as child abduction, noise pollution, poverty, ocean disputes and war.

In the performance, Tễu, a popular character in Vietnamese water puppetry, joins Dragon Thăng Long on a journey around the world to solve these problems and send messages of peace and solidarity.

Dragon Thăng Long is inspired by architecture and fine arts from the Lý Dynasty (10th century). Other characters like Crocodile, Giraffe, Fire Dragon and Water Dragon take the characteristics of the continents they come from or the way they are described in the tales.

Director Dương said it had been a challenging and interesting experiment.

“I want to expand the space of water puppetry, which has been established and preserved for over 10 centuries in Việt Nam. I also want to create a chance for the artists to show their acting skill.”

“Besides the traditional stage designed as a floating temple, all other spaces in the theatre are exploited in a creative and innovative way in this piece,” he said.

“The puppets may appear from the wings or the back, surprising the audience.”

 A scene from Mơ Rồng (Dragon’s Dream). — VNS Photo Minh Giang

The most impressive part of the show is the artists. They not only control different types of puppets using rods and strings, but they also perform as contemporary dancers.

Long said the piece was inspiring for all the actors because it was the first time they had appeared in front of the audience, giving them a chance to see them react to their performance and the puppets. With the role of Land Dragon, Lê Thu Huyền has to carry a 10kg puppet to perform on stage and underwater. Other artists have to control life-size giraffe puppets.

“It’s very emotional, we don’t control the puppets, we live their lives. We express gestures and facial expressions following the puppets’ stories,” said Long.

“I really respect director Dương. He is very creative and open-minded. He's introduced many special effects and techniques. For example, when American Dragon comes onto the stage, the lights are off, then the door to the stage is opened and my shadow is reflected on the stage wall. It’s an impressive opening.”

“We worked hard on this piece because we wanted to do it. We think it's a good way to develop the traditional art in modern times,” Long added.

An artist controls Tễu and Dragon Thăng Long. — VNS Photo Minh Giang

Trương Ngọc Ninh, chairman of the Hà Nội Music Association, highly appreciated the content of the piece.

“The music by Australian artist Darin Verhagen is amazing,” he said.

“The piece does not involve a script. Over one hour the story is told through the movements of the artists and music.”

“It eliminates borders between countries. The piece can be performed and understood throughout the world,” said Ninh.

The show features 20 artists. It will be presented at the Hà Nội International Experiment Theatre Festival from October 4-13, then will be performed from October 20 at the Thăng Long Water Puppetry Theatre. — VNS

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