Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Hat Boi | VN Express | Thanh Nguyen

Photo © Thanh Nguyen | Courtesy VNExpress
After many weeks of silence on this blog; due partly to the need to take a time off to focus on photographic projects, travel...and just for a summer break, I'm back with an interesting article and images of a Vietnamese ancient art form called hát tuồng or hát bội.

The origin of this art form is truly fascinating. I had learned from scouring the internet that this classic opera is the Vietnamese adaptation of the Chinese opera that has been enjoyed by kings and provincial mandarins, and performed as a court art (as well as for popular audiences) especially in central Vietnam. The introduction of Chinese opera is attributed to the capture of a troupe of performers attached to the Mongol army that invaded northern Vietnam in 1285, and the actors’ lives were spared in return for teaching their art to the Vietnamese.

As in Chinese opera, makeup color and dress indicate the character type of each character: black for boldness and bravery, red for anger or rashness, white for treachery, and gold as the color of the gods.


And also as with its "parent" art form, hát bội is kept alive by poor artists afraid it will die with them. While the Vietnamese government is anxious in promoting its indigenous culture such as Hầu đồng and Ca trù, I suspect that hát bội will not receive the same governmental push, but who knows?

The article that appeared in the VNExpress newspaper introduces us to Ms. Nguyen Thi Hanh, a hát bội actress, who lives in a small rented apartment in My Tho, capital of the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang. 

At 67, she is the senior actress of the Ngoc Khanh troupe, one of the best known htroupes in the south of Vietnam (by the way, the art form is called hát tuồng in the north of Vietnam, and hát bội in the south.

My interest in the Vietnamese form of Chinese Opera started in 2012 whilst leading a photo-expedition-workshop to Vietnam in 2012. It was there in Hanoi that I took my group to a theater near Hoan Kiem Lake to photograph a hát tuồng show. Aside from us, there were less than handful of tourists in the audience. I had a limited time to photograph backstage, but it was enough to upload a few images unto a gallery.

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