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Tuong: Traditional Meets Contemporary

One of the highlights of this year’s Tet is a Tuong presentation by 30 of the classical drama actors from Dao Tan Theatre in the Central Binh Province. They will go around Ho Chi Minh City to showcase their talent and the beauty of the traditional art form as a whole.


Tuong started in the 12th century as an expression of the Vietnamese people’s loyalty to their monarch and their patriotic duty in general. But it was only until the 17th century when it achieved the status of an official authentic art form, elevating from a simple folk art into the elite royal art. It has similarities to other performing arts like the Cheo (traditional opera) in the North and Cai Luong. The difference though is that Tuong involves serious training and sincere passion for the art. Tuong actors are required to be physically strong and fluid; and should have a powerful voice because performing the traditional art form involves complete movement of all body parts and conveying the message of the play through emotions.


The show is composed of various acts like singing; dancing; and symbolic and stylized music, with all elements (language, music, color, structure, struggles and characters’ personalities) featuring the primary theme of the play. The costumes are made up of glamorous and intricate designs that can weigh up to 10 kilograms.


But what makes this year’s Tuong different from the previous years is that while the past performances stuck to the traditional theme, 2015 will combine both the old and new styles to keep up with the modern times and attract more people to watch and truly appreciate the art. This year’s Tet will mix customary Tuong with contemporary Cai Luong, the latter being a Southern art form of reformed theatre. Advanced sound and light systems will also be used to adapt to the current times.


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It is not without challenges though since out of the thousands who audition at the Ha Noi University of Theatre and Cinematography every year, none of the applicants really intend to make Tuong their professional career choice in the future. Currently, there are also only seven professional Tuong theatres in Vietnam which can be found in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and in the provinces of Thanh Hoa, Hue, Da Nang, Binh Dinh and Khanh Hoa. Because of this, there is an urgent need for the school and the government as a whole to think of ways to improve the traditional art to make it more interesting and attractive especially to the younger generation.


Several weeks ago, Dao Tan Theatre gave a free performance at Sen Hong Theatre in District 1, 23/ 9 Park which fortunately attracted a large audience and positive feedback. This coming Tet, excerpts from famous play such as Ong Gia Cong Vo Di Xem Hoi (The Old Man Carries His Young Wife On His Back To Go To The Festival) and Ly Dao Thanh Xu An Thuong Duong (Ly Dao Thanh Passess Judgement on the Queen) will be among the highlights of Tuong presentation.


Tuong is one identification of the Vietnamese spirit and character. As such, despite its struggles, it will definitely continue to be a standard for Vietnamese traditional classical drama for more generations to come, even for a lifetime.

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