VietNamNet Bridge – The performing arts scene has expanded rapidly in recent years with an increasing volume of young talents achieving success. But the action has been confined to modern art forms, with traditional forms like tuong (classical drama) being ignored.
Times are changing: A scene from the cai luong (reformed theatre) play Ke Si Thang Long (Thang Long's Scholars) performed by artists from the Ha Noi Cai Luong Theatre. Traditional art forms like this are being ignored as more and more young talent enters the performing arts scene, but mostly in modern performances. (Photo: VNS)
For instance, some 2,000 candidates applied to the Ha Noi University of Theatre and Cinematography this year, but none to the tuong course, Le Chuc, deputy chairman of the Viet Nam Theatre Artists Association, said.
"We are facing a shortage of young, skilled tuong performers," he lamented.
Chuc, himself a tuong actor, said cultural authorities need to invest in producing talented young artists if the art is to truly develop.
The art originated in the 12th century, but its growth occurred mainly in the 17th century.
Along with cheo (traditional opera) in the north and cai luong (reformed theatre) in the south, tuong defines the quintessence of Vietnamese culture.
Tuong is a particularly difficult art to master, Chuc said.
"In theatre or film, amateurs can practise a bit and perform, but you cannot perform tuong unless you are properly trained."
To perform, artists use almost all the parts of their body. If they lack a powerful voice, they cannot sing and dance while also expressing the emotions of each character.
It is an exhausting art because it involves wearing costumes that sometimes weigh up to 10kg.
Many tuong performers also sing pop and quan ho (traditional love duets from Bac Ninh Province) to earn a living, Nguyen Thi Loc Huyen from the Viet Nam National Tuong Theatre, said.
"The fact is that none of us can live on our salary – of around VND2 million (US$100) a month – even if we are stars."
"Though our lives are hard, we have a passion for tuong," the 30-year-old actress added.
The lack of audiences is also a problem because they are the "key to the survival of traditional stage arts and classical drama in particular."
Huyen's theatre can call on 73 performers and music players, few aged below 30.
Chuc said: "We should have a new generation of audience who understand and like tuong."
Tuong, which developed from a folk art into a royal art, uses themes eulogising loyalty to the monarch and patriotic duty.
The art consists of singing and dancing, which is highly stylised and filled with symbolism.
The actors' gestures together with a good deal of imagination from the audience help create the scenes.
There is minimal use of props and equipment.
Ha Noi, HCM City, Da Nang, Hue, Thanh Hoa, Binh Dinh, and Khanh Hoa provinces each have a professional tuong theatre.
VietNamNet/Viet Nam News