Photo courtesy of www.theguardsman.com
FROM WIRE REPORTS
Huynh Anh Tuan, director of the renowned Idecaf Theater and the successful Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater in Sai Gon, has for the past three months been seen every day at a construction site behind the city’s Labor Cultural Palace in District 1.
Tuan moves quickly around, inspecting everything, including the toilets, and checking if his workers need more building materials.
He is transforming a two-story building inside the palace that had housed a billiards center into a theater for traditional Vietnamese folk music targeting tourists.
The 52-year-old is one of few Vietnamese to make a commercial success of art shows.
Tuan said the that when construction is done imminently, Non La – referring to the conical hat made of palm leaf – will have a giant conical-hat-shaped roof and thatched ticket booths.
Its 250 seats will be made of bamboo and rattan, “to bring a Vietnamese atmosphere for audiences.”
A food corner on the first floor will serve tourists cuisine from the north, south and central regions before the show begins.
The regular menu will have phở and gỏi cuốn – which CNN has dubbed two of the world’s 50 most delicious foods.
Every 50-minute show, titled Ngoc Viet (Vietnamese pearl), will feature various forms of traditional music, including the Hue royal music, gongs from the Central Highlands, đàn đá (a lithopone, an ancient musical instrument comprising 11 slabs of stone), and lục cúng hoa đăng (a dance with lotus-shaped lanterns, adapted from Buddhism).
Brochures for the music program will be in eight languages – including Chinese, Thai, German, Spanish and Portuguese.
Tuan has for long been derided for his ambition to develop a traditional art and music show for tourists after the failure of many previous attempts by others in recent years.
La Quoc Khanh, deputy director of the city’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, admitted that like other major cities in Viet Nam, Sai Gon too had few music shows for tourists, with most, including the recent Hon Viet (Soul of Viet Nam) show, not lasting for more than half a year.
“Most of the shows are boring and not well-prepared,” he said at a press conference last December to launch the city’s 2nd 100 Excitements Campaign, explaining why they were short-lived.
Tuan began his career in art with the Nu Cuoi Puppet Theater more than 30 years ago and toured remote areas around the country for shows since “every child has the right to be entertained.” He plans to make a success for the theater, mainly because “Viet Nam’s water puppet itself is so artistic, unique and incomparable with anything else in the world.”
Tuan, who has traveled to several Asian countries with diverse cultures and developed tourism industries – such as Thailand, Japan and Korea – said most Vietnamese organizers do not understand what foreign tourists want when they visit the country.
Since most visit for just a few days, they do not either need luxurious spas and bars nor do they have time to travel from place to place to explore different aspects of Vietnamese culture.
“They want to have a glimpse of the culture, including cuisine and arts, in a few hours in a comfortable, intelligent manner,” he said.
After watching a water puppet show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater located near the palace’s main gate on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, tourists can explore Viet Nam’s diverse cultures from north to south and then have dinner on the first floor before going back to their hotels.
“After the show, those who are really interested in what the theater offers will do further research on their own from books or online or return to the country for deeper understanding.”
Another reason all the shows did not last long, according to Tuan and Le Hong Trieu, 52, the Labor Cultural Palace’s director, was the lack of enthusiasm among the local government and the organizers themselves.
“Most previous projects were state-run, and everyone from the chiefs to the staff were not professional or really got into what they were promoting,” Tuan said.
“For, even if they failed, they got their salary. …This explains why Viet Nam’s entertainment industry and tourism remain 20 years behind even the neighboring country of Cambodia.”
Ngoc Viet will feature 32 of Viet Nam’s most talented artists in various genres of music, including đàn tranh (16-chord zither) artist Tuyet Mai and drummers Duc Trung and Duc Dung from the band Phu Dong.