BAC LIEU Members of theatre circles marked their most important day of the year when artists met to pay tribute to their ancestors and to ask for blessings on Wednesday, the twelfth day of the eighth lunar month.
The Cao Van Lau cai luong (reformed theatre) troupe of the southern province of Bac Lieu, as well as devotees and practitioners of hat boi (classic opera) across the south, remembered their ancestors in traditional rituals passed down through the generations.
On a large altar in the middle of the stage, each artist offered food beneath an ancestral tablet inscribed with To su co nhac (ancestry of traditional theatre).
Following three rounds of drum beats by the officiating chief, artists dressed in ceremonial ao dai performed six rounds of offerings, including candles, incense, fruit, wine and tea. A tribute oration was read to the background of ceremonial music.
In each round, four girls made stylised steps carrying each offering to the stage where they handed them over to the head of the troupe, who then performed solemn moves to place them on the altar.
Each round of offerings ended with prostrations performed by the entire officiating team.
"It symbolises double offerings, by apprentice artists (the girls) first and then by me as the master," the head of the troupe, Minh Chien, said.
As the officiating chief, Chien delivered the oration in which he hailed the merits of theatre ancestors. All the troupe s artists took turns to plant incense sticks and bow to the ancestors.
Chien said that the ceremonials, which are called gio To, originated in the legend of three princes who abandoned royal life to join troupes over the king s opposition.
"They didn t want to be a king in the court but a king on the stage," he said, noting that the princes would endure all of the trials and tribulations of the art and die in destitution on the 12th day of the eighth lunar month.
The legend has inspired theatre artists to remember their ancestors who are devoted to the art.
In the province, the ceremonials have been observed since the beginning of the last century, when early artists set altars in their own homes where fellow artists congregated every year to remember their musical ancestors.
"Bac Lieu is the nurse of traditional music," he said of the province s unique standing in southern art, noting that it was the home of two ancestors of traditional music, including Nhac Khi who revised contemporary tai tu songs to their current forms, and Cao Van Lau, Khi s student who composed Da co hoai lang, the original song of cai luong theatre.
"One is the ancestor of tai tu music, while the other is the ancestor of cai luong music," he said.
"Bac Lieu is also a hotbed of theatre, where lots of troupes were born and spread to other provinces," he said, adding that the province has several troupes and hundreds of bands that play ceremonial music as well as tai tu music.
Today, Chien said that gio To had become indispensable to troupes and artists across the region.
During the ceremony, the rituals were followed by performances of hat boi (classic opera) as a kind of artistic offering. Each performer prayed to the ancestors before and after their performances.
"We have a great belief in theatre ancestry and in their blessings," said Ngoc Doi, one of the troupe s lead actresses, who won the Golden Bell for the best cai luong singer two years ago. VNS