|All decked out: A performance by students at the Le Ngoc Han Primary School in HCM City.
Mich Quang continues to spend his time helping develop traditional art forms. Phuong Lan reports.
Over the past decades, Mich Quang has been considered one of Viet Nam's leading cultural researchers and writers, who has wholeheartedly dedicated himself to tuong (classical drama).
"Despite being 99 years old, he still preserves his strong enthusiasm and always aspires to work and contribute to developing Viet Nam's traditional forms of art," says Le Tien Tho, the chairman of Viet Nam Stage Artists' Association.
Quang, whose real name is Nguyen The Khoan, was born in 1917 in Phuoc Son Village in the central province of Binh Dinh, the land that is renowned for poems and classical dramas.
The young Quang soon became interested in tuong shows performed by villagers. His passion for arts was discovered and nurtured by his father, who taught him the beauty of tuong.
Despite his love for tuong, he was still doubtful about his artistic abilities, and became a postal secretary, instead of pursuing arts.
Then an incident occurred, causing Quang to grow a stronger attachment to classical drama. Together with artist Huynh Van Cat, he established the Ninh Hoa Cai Luong Tai Tu (amateur reformed opera) group, from which his gift for arts had a chance to develop.
During the war of resistance against the French, Quang was invited to work as the head of the cultural section of Regiment 94, stationed in Binh Dinh Province. Later he became a member of the provincial standing committee of arts.
In 1954, he moved to North Viet Nam where he began to work as arts editor for the Radio the Voice of Viet Nam. Five years later, he was invited to work for the Department of tuong research, which gathered many talents, such as Pham Phu Tiet and Tong Phuoc Pho. There, Quang learned much about this traditional form of art, and embarked on writing many valuable research papers.
|Nearly a century: Tuong artisan Le Tien Tho (right) and cultural researcher Mich Quang celebrating Quang's 98th birthday. — Photo sankhau.com.vn
The most unforgettable moment in Quang's career, he said, was the opportunity to meet President Ho Chi Minh.
"In the 1960s, the traditional art in northern Viet Nam was in the process of inheriting the essence of the nation's traditions and absorbing those found in the world. On meeting us, artists and researchers, President Ho told us to preserve the beauty of our traditional arts, but not to stand still in one place," he recalls, adding that he always keeps the president's advice in his mind when doing research.
In 1963, Quang released his first book, entitled Buoc Dau Tim Hieu Nghe Thuat Tuong (First Steps to Learn about Tuong), which is considered the first research of the classical drama performed during the socialist period, as well as the first research on theatrical arts of the nation.
"The book was like a treasure for us to discuss with our teachers and international friends", says Professor Hoang Chuong, general director of the Centre of Researching, Preserving and Promoting National Cultures, who earlier studied in the Soviet Union.
Quang was absorbed in research, setting the first steps and acquiring major achievements in traditional theatrical arts. He continued to release other valuable research reports, such as Tim Hieu Nghe Thuat Tuong (Learning about Tuong), Dac Trung Nghe Thuat Tuong (Typical Features of Tuong), and Am Nhac San Khau Kich Hat Dan Toc (Traditional Theatrical Arts).
Through his works, Quang affirms that national arts have to stand firmly on their traditional base and selectively absorb the world's essence, in order to develop and enrich itself, which is considered to be the guideline, both for himself and younger generations to promote national forms of arts.
Not only is he a researcher, but also an excellent creative writer of nearly 20 tuong scripts. Despite having different topics, all Quang's works express pride in his hometown, which is also the birthplace of many outstanding national heroes and cultural figures.
For example, the play Quang Trung praises the talents and contributions of the second emperor of the Tay Son dynasty of Viet Nam (1753-1792), and Thanh Guom Hat Boi is considered one of his most successful tuong plays, and also called the "monument for national figures" in the tuong language.
The most success Quang received in his research career is from his book Kinh Dich Voi Nghe Thuat Truyen Thong (San Khau - Am Nhac - My Thuat) (Book of Changes with Traditional Arts: Stage - Music - Fine Arts), which won the National Awards for Literature and Arts in 2001.
"It is a very difficult scientific topic that few researchers dare to pursue. Though its success is still being discussed, as Quang himself said, his courage to open a new research path is still respectable," says Prof Chuong about the book.
"The current state of composing and performing has posed many challenges in researching, preserving and promoting traditional arts," says artist Le The Tho. "In such a context, research by Mich Quang has become more and more meaningful and valuable to contemporary theatrical artists." VNS