HCM CITY— One of Hồ Chí Minh City’s private theatres is working to introduce young people to tuồng or hát bội (classical drama), a Vietnamese traditional theatre genre that originated in the 17th century.
The Huỳnh Long Tuồng Troupe will stage a series of new historical plays featuring national heroes and events in different periods under the Trần, Ngô, Đinh and Lý dynasties this year.
The first show, Ngô Quyền Và Chiến Thắng Bạch Đằng Giang (General Ngô Quyền and the Great Victory on Bạch Đằng River), will be released on HCM City Television in March.
The play features the battle of Bạch Đằng River in 938, when the Vietnamese troops led by General Ngô Quyền defeated the invading forces from the Chinese Southern Han Dynasty.
The General at the time had his troops plant iron-tipped wooden stakes into the river bed, invisible during high tides. After he launched a counter-attack at low tide, the enemy’s large boats ran aground as they were pierced by the long sharpened stakes.
The victory of Bạch Đằng ended the 1,000-year Chinese domination of Việt Nam, opening a period of Việt Nam’s independence and sovereignty. Ngô Quyền became the King and ruled the Ngô Dynasty.
The play features young talents Mỹ Châu, Đăng Khoa and Quốc Thanh, graduates of the HCM City University of Theatre & Cinematography.
“We will offer quality shows featuring a unique style of tuồng,” said the troupe’s art director and actress Bình Tinh, who has 20 years of experience in the industry.
“We want to bring the art closer to young audiences.”
The Huỳnh Long Troupe, which opened in 2017, is composed of 30 skilled actors, mostly graduates of leading art schools in the city and neighbouring provinces. The troupe offers performances every Sunday at 144 Đinh Tiên Hoàng Street in Bình Thạnh District.
Managed by actress Bình Tinh and her staff, the troupe offers shows aimed at young people.
“Our veteran artists help young talents improve their vocal and performance skills in the hopes that they’ll develop a professional career and the troupe will become a place for people to enjoy the art in a unique way,” she said.
Born to a traditional family in HCM City, Bình Tinh, whose real name is Huỳnh Ngọc Trinh, began her love for tuồng when she was a child. Her first lessons came from her mother, famous actress, scriptwriter and director Bạch Mai, owner of the Huỳnh Long Troupe.
In 2016, Bình Tinh won first prize at the Chuông Vàng Vọng Cổ (Golden Bell) Awards, a national cải lương (reformed opera) contest presented annually by HCM City Television.
She took part in Sao Nối Ngôi (Young Stars), a TV programme featuring young actors in cải lương, on Vĩnh Long Television’s THLV1 channel in 2018. She and her colleagues performed vọng cổ (nostalgic tunes), cải lương and tuồng.
She has played leading roles in famous historical plays, such as Thái Hậu Dương Vân Nga (Queen Dương Vân Nga) and Huyền Trân Công Chúa (Princess Huyền Trân).
Through her art, these plays have been renewed. “I’ve always worked hard to develop the art and maintain my family’s artistic tradition,” said Bình Tinh.
She and her staff at Huỳnh Long Tuồng Troupe have co-operated with traditional art troupes and television stations in the city and southern provinces to produce and perform in shows and programmes featuring tuồng.
“We have worked hard to make each show a lesson, with images, sounds and music, that provides young audiences with wonderful insights about their history, traditional culture and theatre,” said the 40-year-old.
Tuồng consists of singing and dancing accompanied by music, and is highly stylised and filled with symbolism. Its themes include monarchist loyalty and patriotism which help define the play’s structure, language, music, struggles, and characters’ personalities.
Performers wear heavy costumes weighing up to 10 kilos. They use their body, from the fingers to the elbows to all of the muscles, to move on stage. They must have a strong voice to sing and dance at the same time, and express the emotions of the characters.— VNS