Vietnamese Water Puppets

Garden Theatre, Aotea Square, Auckland

02/03/2011 - 20/03/2011

Auckland Arts Festival 2011

Production Details

As exhilarating as it is historic, a rare enchanting treat."San Francisco Examiner 

"Folk art of considerable charm…Arrive early. Keep the kids up!"New York Post 

An enchanting cultural experience that will mesmerize adults and children alike, Water Puppetry has been performed on the surface of ponds and paddy fields of the Red River Delta for a thousand years – the lively creation of farmers who spend their days tending the flooded rice plantations. In Auckland, the puppets’ home is the Garden Theatre, a miniature lake and seating area, specially constructed to fit the surrounds of the Festival Garden (Aotea Square).

The Thang Long Troupe brings New Zealand families this same magical and exhilarating experience that has delighted audiences around the world; a carefully protected art, whose ancient secrets and complex skills have been guarded for centuries. Water is the setting for stories of village life – scenes of farming and fishing, buffalo fights, and children’s games of marbles and coin-toss. Lion dogs romp like puppies while dragons exhale smoke and shoot sprays of water at the audience, accompanied by a traditional ensemble.

"The puppets are beautiful to look at, resembling intricately carved sculpture or colorfully enameled porcelain dolls. Think of it as a special-effects spectacle, modest in the land of Spielberg, but a still enchanting array of dragons breathing firecrackers, a mist unfolding over the water, a shimmering flower." – Newsday   

Vietnamese Water Puppets
Garden Theatre, Aotea Square
2-20 March 2001
Festival page  

Gentle and playful puppets charm everyone

Review by Janet McAllister 03rd Mar 2011

This naif-style glimpse into the customs and pastimes of Vietnamese rice farmers and their families via the 1000-year-old art form of water puppetry is warm, friendly, gentle and playful.

Showing 13 brief, simple scenes of rural life and mythical animals in 45 minutes, the Thang Long troupe can keep even the smallest audience members happy. [More]
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A magical delight

Review by Adey Ramsel 03rd Mar 2011

Against a simple yet colourful backdrop of bamboo curtain and red velvet cloths, a light drizzle descends on us as we are transported back a thousand years.

The world famous Thang Long Water Puppet Troupe of Hanoi entertains us with story telling in its basic and simplest format. Six puppeteers stand waist deep in a pool of shimmering green water, masked by a curtain. With a creative but again simple system of strings and pulleys, they have full control and mastery of a range of puppets as they display their beautiful folk art.

Formed originally to celebrate the end of the rice harvest and religious festivals in the paddy fields of Northern Vietnam, the art now depicts daily activities in Vietnamese life, important historical events and ancient legends. 

The puppets themselves are a colourful mix of dragons, phoenix, fishermen, fish, frogs, humans, lions and snakes. Carved with exquisite care and beauty, each one given five layers of lacquer paint to protect them from the water, the puppets are a show in themselves, and I craved to see more of the intricate detail. Rich, deep and intense the colours work well against the green pool and the fading light of the evening. 

The puppet masters’ presence is forgotten as we watch these animals and humans act out their rituals. It’s nice to see the children in the audience squeal with delight in watching something that is pure story telling – no monitor, no buttons, loud bangs, explosions or violence. We are treated to slapstick, romance, dance, ritualistic synchronised routines that draw us in and amaze us when we remember that they are mere puppets being operated from behind a curtain. 

The agility of each puppet is so precise that you can marvel at each action – the swimming children, arm over arm, is particularly impressive. The absence of any visible string system only increases the wonder and awe, and led me to wonder at the arm strength needed by those puppeteers to operate them from beneath the water at a distance of a good metre behind.

These 6 masters – who along with 6 musicians that accompany each story with their own blend of traditional song and music, have delighted each and everyone one of us – finally emerge for their curtain call. (A nod of respect here to the musicians for performing a version of ‘Pokarekare Ana’ on their traditional instruments as a pre-curtain raiser.) 

This is a magical event, over all too quickly but something to share with the whole family. A unique theatrical tradition from a culture that truly values its history.
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