TRẦN VĂN KHÊ : Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam (Prof.Tran Van Khe) – Part 3 (END)

Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam (Prof.Tran Van Khe) – Part 3 (END)

Differences between hat tuong and Chinese theatre

In plays, subjects drawn from the history of Viet-Nam or from certain Viet-Namese romances are not rare. We mention among others : Tru’ng Nu’ Vuong (The Two Trung Queens) by Phan Doi Chau on the exploits of the Trung sisters fighting against the Chinese invaders (40-44 A.D.); Duong Ve Lam Soh, glorifying the fight of the VietNamese people against the Ming, under the leadership of a peasant patriot Le Loi, founder of the later Le dynasty (fifteenth century); and Luc Van Tien, a romance in verse of Nguyen Din Chieu. Although loyalty to the sovereign formed the theme of plays in the Viet-Namese theatre, the fine parts were given to loyal subjects, often of humble birth. At the end of tuong thay (history) plays, the crown princes, pursued by traitors but protected by the people, ascend the throne, reward the loyal subjects and punish the felons. The language of the principal characters is that of aristocrats. The servants and clowns, when they speak among themselves, use the language of the people. Although in the tuong pho, the text is largely written in the Sino-Viet-Namese language, in tuong thau and especially tuong do domestic plays, much room is left for the national language. The musical repertory is very different in the two theatres: there are of course speeches (noi loi in the VietNamese theatre, pai in the Chinese theatre) and songs. In the Chinese theatre, the songs are in two principal styles : hsi pi and erh huang. The pang tse may also be mentioned. They are absolutely different from the hat khach, hat num of the Viet-Namese theatre. The passages called kouo men (literally ‘to go through the door’), played as interludes, and the pieces calledya ti (literally ‘elegant A utes’) intended to accompany pantomimes or a particular stage effect in the Chinese theatre, do not exist in the Viet-Namese theatre where on the other hand a large number of pieces for percussion are found such as: Khai troung or Trong duong dau (overture) before the beginning of the play; Dam bang or Bai chien for battle scenes.

Reform and change

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a tendency to ‘reform’ the hat tuong was shown by the appearance of the hat boi pha cai luong genres (traditional theatre mixed with the so-called reformed theatre) in southern Viet-Nam, the hat bo Xuan nu (traditional theatre, Xuan nu style : ‘springlike young girl’) in central Viet-Nam, and the hat tuong Saigon (traditional theatre, Saigon style) in northern Viet-Nam. In fact, the reform consisted mainly in imitating the play, gestures and make-up of the Chinese actors, in introducing pieces of relaxation music into the traditional repertory, and in using the scenery and curtain as in the Western theatre. The production has even been seen of traditional plays taken from a fashionable novel such as Toi Cua Ai (Whose Fault?) and Ai Len Pho Cat (Who is Going up to Pho Cat?). In the countryside, however, the public always calls for the traditional plays. Immediately after the revolution of August 1945, and during the War of Resistance, the hat tuong in the north and the hat boi in the south went through a period of decline. In some provinces, the hat tuong companies tried without success to perform plays for spoken theatre instead of the traditional theatre. From 1952 onwards, by order of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam, it was decided to restore the traditional theatre. Plays taken from the ancient or contemporary history of Viet-Nam appeared. We mention among others Tru’ng Nu’ Vuong (The Two Trung Queens),Dung Ve Lam Son (The Road Back to Lam Son, the place where the struggle began against the Ming invaders in the fifteenth century), Dau Tranh Giam To (Fight for the Reduction of Farm Rents), Chi Ngo (Chi Ngo the Fighter). Each hat tuong performance was attended by thousands of spectators, and many young people were trained in the hat tuong section of the National School of Dramatic Art. In southern Viet-Nam, the traditional theatre is dying out. A single company gives performances in Saigon which are poorly attended. In Dinh Dinh, the cradle of the hat boi, there are about fifteen village troupes. Recently in Saigon, the Association for the Encouragement of Theatre Studies and of Traditional Singing (Hoi khuyen Ze CO CU) organized several hat boi performances for an audience of connoisseurs and students. In the south, however, the so-called reformed theatre (hat cai Zuong) has almost completely replaced the traditional theatre. At the present time the young people are turning towards the new music (tun nhuo) or the variety and dance music of Western countries, and they are completely ignorant of the subtleties of song and speech in the traditional theatre. The task of educating the public is just as urgent as that of preserving and handing down the art of the theatre. In northern Viet-Nam, all the forms of theatre are taught in the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art. Research groups are collecting documents on the hut tuong, hut cheo, hat cui Zuong, hut bui choi; and together with the study of a historical or aesthetic nature, experiments are being made to reform or adapt the theatre to living conditions of the present day. The public is sympathetic towards efforts made to find a new and original formula for the traditional theatre, which continues to develop in the north. Only the return of peace and the reunification of Viet-Nam, or at least the re-establishment of cultural relations between the two parts of Viet-Nam, will make it possible to give new energy to the work of restoring and developing the traditional theatre.

TRAN VAN KHE

*** Source: The Performing Arts in Asia – Unesco Paris 1971

(Edited and with introductions by James R. Brandon)

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