Farmer by day, operetta master by night

Published: 22/04/2009 05:00



Ha Quang Ngan is not just a mere farmer. He is also an artisan who strives to preserve two unique performances of cheo (traditional operetta) and pass them on to younger generations.

A traditional operetta troupe rehearses in Thap Village, Kien Khe Town in northern Ha Nam Province’s Thanh Liem District.

VietNamNet Bridge - Ha Quang Ngan is not just a mere farmer. He is also an artisan who strives to preserve two unique performances of cheo (traditional operetta) and pass them on to younger generations. He is 69 years old and lives in Khuoc Village, in the northern province of Thai Binh’s Dong Hung District.

Ngan says he learned his skills from a famous cheo artist in the region, Cao Kim Trach.

Khuoc Village, also known as Co Khuc Village, is widely considered as one of the cradles of traditional operetta in Viet Nam. In the past, the village has had up to 14 or 15 troupes. In Phong Chau Commune alone, there are four traditional operetta clubs in the four hamlets of Khuoc Dong, Khuoc Tay, Khuoc Bac and Co Xa.

Villagers are able to sing traditional operettas from other regions, but they only sing 12 primary tunes from Khuoc Village, including Tinh Thu Ha Vi (The Love Letter of Ha Vi), Tuyet Dat Song Thuong (Snow on the Thuong River) and He Dom Do (Clown Traps Fish).

Ngan is now a master of the two unique ancient performances of traditional Tu Thuc plays: Mua Trai (a collective dance) and Tam Tien (Fairy’s Bath).

Ngan followed Trach to learn the art of traditional operettas when he was only 11 years old.

Among Trach’s students, Ngan was able to perform the Mua Trai and Tam Tien masterpieces better than anyone else.

According to musician and researcher Dang Hoanh Loan, former deputy head of the Music Institute, Tu Thuc is a long traditional operetta that lasts all through the night.

“In the play, the Mua Trai and Tam Tien extracts are two special performances. Mua Trai is a sub-dance of traditional operetta art, with many performers wearing colourful costumes and carrying flowered-lights. In the cheo art, a sub-dance itself can be made as an independent performance.

Tam Tien portrays a fairy’s bath and should be performed by an actress. But this dance is so complicated, and today in the village only Ngan still remembers the needed skills.”

Loan says the Tam Tien dance is a very precious dance in traditional operettas.

“The performer wears a brassiere and through the movements, spectators can imagine a fairy bathing. As traditional operettas were performed during feudal times, when everything had to be discreet, this bathing performance is a strong proof of freedom and shows the people’s wishes to depict the beauty of the human body. This is the most valuable thing,” Loan says.

“Moreover, on a traditional operetta stage, there’s almost no bathing scenes, only hair washing. Therefore, the Tam Tien dance has become a very rare and precious performance of the cheo art form, from the past through to today,” he adds.

Ngan says he and his younger brother Ha Quang Hoach still practise the Tam Tien dance every day. They have also travelled around the region to find artisans who have mastered these two performances, so that they may study with them, but so far they have not met anyone qualified enough.

Ngan also confesses that he can only remember two-thirds of the Tam Tien extract with the exactness it deserves.

“For the remaining one-third – even though I may dance more beautifully than the ancient performers – I must confess that my performance is not really from the ancient skills. That’s why I continue to search for an artisan that knows about the classical Tam Tien dance, to learn to complete it. Then I can make it public. Presently, with my drumming and castanet skills and the singing and dancing that I comprehend, I can try to teach the art to others,” Ngan says.

Recently, famous cheo artist Tu Long, along with a French artist, visited Ngan to learn some of the dances of the traditional operettas. Ngan carefully taught the two many skills, but he did not teach them the Mua Trai or Tam Tien performances.

Mua Trai and Tam Tien cannot be taught and learned over just one night,” he explains. “To know these two performances perfectly, the artist should first know how to dance, play the drums and castanets and perfectly sing 12 ancient tunes from the Khuoc traditional operetta.”

Not as uncommon as the Tam Tien dance, the Mua Trai extract today can be performed by many people in Khuoc Village and the neighbouring regions.

The dance is often performed by 20-26 artists who line up in the shape of a V with the backs to each other.

Ngan has travelled to most of the communes in Dong Hung District to teach traditional operetta skills.

Cheo Khuoc is precious art and treasure of Khuoc Village, but we cannot keep it just to enrich ourselves, because when we die, the art will go away with us. We must find people who will continue this tradition,” Ngan says.


Provide by Vietnam Travel

Farmer by day, operetta master by night - Profiles - In depth |  vietnam travel company

You can see more

enews & updates

Sign up to receive breaking news as well as receive other site updates!

Ads by Adonline