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Updates from the 2011 Artistic DirectorElisabeth EastherSchools Review CompetitionReviews
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NZ Herald Review: Vietnamese Water Puppets at Aotea Square

By - 3 Mar 2011
"This naif-style glimpse into the customs and pastimes of Vietnamese rice farmers and their families via the 1000-year-old art form of water puppetry is warm, friendly, gentle and playful."

By Janet McAllister
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"Showing 13 brief, simple scenes of rural life and mythical animals in 45 minutes, the Thang Long troupe can keep even the smallest audience members happy.

First the musicians appear on the side of the small pool, the men in blue tunics and singer Vu Thi Loan in a striking red dress. In a graceful nod to their hosts, they delight by playing Tutira Mai Nga Iwi and Pokarekare Ana, which sound beautiful on Vietnamese flutes and stringed instruments (including a dan bau). Then an overture. "Come out Vietnamese water puppets!" commands my impatient 6-year-old co-reviewer.

First puppets to arrive are red and bronze drummers, closely followed by Teu, a traditional buffoon character in a loin cloth.

Then come sinuous, snaky, spiralling golden dragons who can spit water high like fountains. Workers tend rice fields and children turn somersaults. Fishermen try to catch frogs and red fish, and catch one another by mistake.

There is no plot, and few words; each scene is well described in the informative programme. The lacquered puppets are simple, hand-carved models around 60cm high, sitting low on their liquid "stage", moved via long rods under the waist-deep, lurid green water. The five puppeteers are hidden within a tipsy, tour-veteran pagoda at the back of the pool.

Our favourites were the phoenixes comically taking turns to stretch their sparkly necks in a courtship dance. With their long, festive, slightly straggly tail feathers, they looked like Quentin Blake's Roly Poly Bird in Roald Dahl's The Enormous Crocodile. A large egg appeared, then a cute baby bird. "Awwww," went the audience.

The music throughout is excellent, with a wide range of tempos and styles, and Vu Thi Loan has a sweet, clear, strong voice.

The significance of water in shaping not only Vietnam's sustaining horticulture but also its social and artistic culture is palpable. This show is a moment in another world, portrayed in a fitting and authentic way."


Where: Aotea Square.

When: Until March 20.


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