This tradition began in northern Vietnam in the 11th century. The shows are performed in pools of water that are waist deep. The puppets, held and controlled by the puppeteers by long sticks, are wooden with a lacquer finish. There is a screen to hide the puppeteers from being seen by the audience during the show. Life music is often played during the presentations, usually by a traditional Vietnamese orchestra.
Many of the pieces of the shows are in reference to traditional Vietnamese folklore, legends, and national history. The show that we attended at the Thanh Long Theater included many of these and was beautifully done. I definitely recommend it for anyone going to Hanoi... and at only 100,000d (about $5.00) per ticket... you can't go wrong!
I attended another water puppet performance last spring in Ho Chi Minh City as a field trip with students from school. The theater we went to is next to the zoo... they do not use live music and most scenes were about fighting... it was still a nice experience but not nearly as nice as this one at Thanh Long Theater. (And I have yet to post the pictures from that one! - Whoops!)
Very nice theater:
Beautiful bamboo screen to hide the puppeteers:
Just before the show begins:
The live music was great.
The instrument she is holding in the middle is a traditional Vietnamese instrument... although I've forgotten now what it's called!
(The lady on the right used a 16-chord zither, which is another traditional Vietnamese instrument.)
The television screen above them was used to translate their commentary between each piece... and there were more musicians seated behind these three shown below:
The following piece depicted a traditional dance of the Hmong minority group (which we had JUST seen in person when we were in Sa Pa the day before!):
The puppeteers came out after the show... holding the puppets and also holding lit lotus lamps,
which they used to form Vietnam! ...Just beautiful.
I teared up at the end of the show... it was incredibly beautiful and the puppeteers seemed so proud to be a part of this cultural tradition of their country. Being a water puppeteer is often a career that is carried through generations of a family.
Much of the information in the beginning of this post came from the Wikipedia article on Water Puppetry... read it by clicking here!