Vietnam’s theatre arts draw from Chinese, Indian, and European influences, the last especially so in the form of classical Western music. There are four renowned traditional theatre arts in Vietnam: chèo, tuồng, cải lương and rối nước (water puppetry). 

Referred to as ‘opera for the masses’, chèo blends dance and music, and was traditionally performed by Northern peasants. The show was once thought of as being ‘anti-establishment’ – it provoked the ire of 15th century Le Dynasty rulers with its sarcastic and comedic takes on current events of the day. 

Tuồng grew out of traditional Chinese opera. Originally an entertainment form for royalty, it soon took to the road with travelling ensembles. As with cheo, characters are defined by their unique costumes and makeup. The stories deal with historic events and legends interwoven with Confucian dictates.

Vietnam’s cải lương, a sort of modern folk opera, is similar to western operettas. Costumed performers sing and dance their way through comedies and dramatic stories that emphasise Vietnamese moral values such as solidarity, lifelong learning, hard work and self-sacrifice.

Water puppetry, though it originated in the Red River Delta in the country’s North, is a popular theatre art in HCMC. Wooden puppets manipulated by hidden puppeteers glide over a shallow pool of water as folk tales and legends are acted out to accompanying music. The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre at HCMC’s culture center on 55B Nguyen Thị Minh Khai, D1 hosts daily shows for VND180,000 per person (free for children under three) at 5pm-5:50pm and 6:30pm-7:20pm. For inquiries, you may call them at +84 28 3930 2196.

For information on traditional Vietnamese entertainment go to Water Puppets Ho Chi Minh City

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