Water puppets show in Paris
Until the 25thFebruary, the Quai Branly museum in Paris is showcasing the art of Vietnamese water puppets.
An age-old tradition
In Asia the art of puppetry dates back more than 2000 years. It’s a real ‘people’s tradition’ which can take place in both villages and royal palaces. They’re not just for entertainment; puppets were initially related to religion. They symbolise sacred and supernatural elements, and are a way of passing on folk legends.
In Vietnam, puppets first appeared in the eleventh century under the Ly dynasty (1009-1225) and were passed on due to the Chinese influence. They are strongly linked with the spirit world which livens up the retelling of legends or scenes from daily life. In the rice paddies, puppetry adapted to its setting as the Múarốinước originated in the Red River Delta. These are the ‘puppets which dance on water’.
A festive atmosphere
The puppeteers are hidden in the shade or behind a wooden panel, up to their waists in water. They make the characters move using a long bamboo stick under the water. The orchestra, which is made up of percussion and flutes, and chèo opera singers tell the story while puppets act it out, gliding on the water. The singers don’t hesitate to shout out to the puppets if they’re in danger!
Each puppet represents a particular character with a specific meaning. The most common puppets are dragons, phoenix, animals from the countryside and the rice paddies, village people and genies. And we can’t forgetthe famous ‘Chu Teu’, a good natured joker who kicks off the story and links the events together.
These shows are synonymous with celebration – firecrackers explode at the beginning and they often take place during Tet.
The National Water Puppetry Theatre of Vietnam and the Lévi-Strauss Quai Branly Theatre wanted to jointly showcase the technical skill of the puppeteers who so poetically recreate their country’s ancestral stories and celebrate this art which UNESCO has declared to be part of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage.