Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Hanoi Report 6

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
My stay in Ha Noi is unfortunately nearing its end, but yesterday's hầu đồng was, at least in my view, truly the apex of the practice of this ritual of spirit mediumship practiced in Vietnam.

Having had to travel to Hải Phòng (approximately 60 miles from Ha Noi) was a tiny price to pay to witness such as spectacular performance by one of the leading partitioner of the craft. Less modest than the other performances I've seen before, this one was an extravanagza of costumes, flamboyant gestures, make-up worthy of Hollywood movie making and even extras to give more depth to the proceedings.

I was welcomed as a friend, and shared breakfast and lunch with all the crew and followers. Despite my utter ignorance of Vietnamese except for a few mispronounced words, we managed to communicate with sign language and smiles...and I didn't feel being an intruder. It has nothing to do with luck, but all to do with the relentless efforts of Ms Tu; who made this all possible and convinced all the practitioners of hầu đồng that I was a trusted friend who admired the traditional culture of Vietnam and its depth.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
This particular performance struck me as being quite different than those I've seen before. The Hát Tuồng Vietnamese Opera influence appeared to be very strong in the costumes, headgear and some of the mannerisms adopted by the medium. Even the elaborate make-up reminded me of it. Naturally, Hát Tuồng is influenced by Chinese Opera as well.

From a photography perspective, I wished there had been a black curtain to hide the bright sunlight or if this performance had been held at night (of course, I'd have to contend with other light issues then), but one gets what one can. 

As I mentioned before, I had some frustrating issues with the focusing for the X T-1. Principally because of the movement of the medium, flickering candles, and light extremes. I tried various techniques to compensate and redress these issues...some worked on occasion, but still frustrating. Ms Tu used a Canon dslr, and experienced more or less the same issues...but appeared more stoic about them, and captured some exquisite shots.