Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

PUSAKA, as part of DiverseCity 2015: Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival, is proud to present for the first time ever in Malaysia, the world-famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre troupe from Hanoi, Vietnam.

Founded in 1969, the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre has performed throughout the world, and participated in many international art festivals, including the United States, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Spain, France and Italy.

Vietnamese water puppetry is a traditional art form that is distinctive to the cultural identity of Vietnam. It came into existence over a thousand years ago in the Red River Delta and has evolved into a highly sophisticated art form.

The original water puppet festivals were held inside a rice paddy, with a pagoda built on top to hide the puppeteers who stand in the waist-deep water. The water acts as the stage for the puppets, and as a symbolic link to the rice harvest.

Modern water puppetry is performed in a pool of water 4 meters square with the water surface being the stage. Performance today occurs on one of three venues—on traditional ponds in villages where a staging area has been set up, on portable tanks built for traveling performers, or in a specialized building where a pool stage has been constructed.

A traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides background music accompaniment. The instrumentation includes vocals, drums, wooden bells, cymbals, horns, đàn bầu (monochord), gongs, and bamboo flutes. The bamboo flute’s clear, simple notes may accompany royalty while the drums and cymbals may loudly announce a fire-breathing dragon’s entrance.

Singers of chèo (a form of opera originating in north Vietnam) sing songs that narrate the story that is acted out by the puppets. The musicians and the puppets interact during performance; the musicians may yell a word of warning to a puppet in danger or a word of encouragement to a puppet in need.

A water puppet show depicts the daily activities in Vietnamese rural life as well as important historical events and ancient legends. Each water puppet is hand-carved and given five layers of lacquer paint to protect the puppets from the water and to add vital colours to the performance.