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New Play Aims to Put Vietnamese Theater in Spotlight

December 15, 2017 Destination ASEAN No Comments Email Email

An actual lake and real-life farmers form the foundation of a cultural spectacle that recently debuted on the outskirts of Hanoi.

Called The Quintessence of Tonkin, the outdoor play is staged on a lake next to one of Vietnam’s oldest Buddhist pagodas and performed by a cast of 250 characters, 150 of which call farming their day job.

“We wanted to make Quintessence feel as authentic as possible,” said Mr. Hoang Nhat Nam, the show’s director. “How our ‘amateurs’ have been able to learn so quickly and adapt so well is nothing short of extraordinary.”

Funded and produced by Tuan Chau Hanoi JSC, The Quintessence of Tonkin is a series of tales about countryside life, told six nights a week within a 2,500-seat amphitheater.

The stage sits just below the water’s surface and is the platform on which the actors and dancers carry out scenes that celebrate northern Vietnamese tradition and culture.

“Water and mountains are very important in Vietnamese folklore,” said Nam. “That’s why Quintessence takes place on a lake, and in a venue right next to a mountain.”

At the top of that mountain is the famed pagoda, Chua Thay, which is also a popular destination during the sacred Lunar New Year (or Tet) period.

Located 25 kilometers west of Vietnam’s capital, the 1,000-year-old shrine plays into the spectacle through an architecturally similar centerpiece that serves as a constant prop, and through a story about how the temple was founded.

The ubiquitous water allows for many of Vietnam’s most iconic cultural activities, from water puppetry to dragon boat racing, to be creatively displayed.

“There has never been anything like this in Vietnam,” said Ms. Tram Tran, The Quintessence of Tonkin‘s director of sales and marketing. “It is so exciting to bring something completely fresh to this market and offer visitors to Hanoi something they’ll never forget.”

Performance-art technicians devised a world-class sound and lighting system for the cutting-edge production, but traditional instruments — such as wooden drums and brass gongs — figure prominently in the sensory experience, as well.

Most of the buzz, however, is being generated by the most nascent members of the ensemble, Nam said. The farmers spent more than a year learning the tricks of a trade previously unfamiliar to them — “and they’ve mastered it,” he said.

The Quintessence of Tonkin shows daily except for Tuesday, starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are US $35 for adults and $20 for children aged 5-11. Kids under 5 years old are not permitted. Dinner is available as an add-on.

For more information about The Quintessence of Tonkin or to purchase tickets, visit www.thequintessenceoftonkin.com.

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