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Performing Arts in Vietnam - Water Puppetry

Performing Arts in Vietnam - Water Puppetry

By Ruby ZhaoUpdated Jun. 17, 2021

Apart from great sceneries, Vietnam also boasts a varied and vibrant culture. Vietnam’s performing arts including theatrical, dance, and music culture, are a particularly intriguing part of Vietnam, and are definitely worth exploring.

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  • Sit back and enjoy beautiful dances and musical performances
  • Be exposed to unique new sights and sounds
  • Get to know some of Vietnam’s folk stories
  • See first-hand Vietnam’s diverse and unique musical instruments
  • Catch a glimpse of Vietnamese culture and history through the arts
  • Notice a prevalent Chinese influence in the performing arts

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Traditional Theatre

You can learn about Vietnam’s oral traditions and folk stories through its theatrical performances. There are several types of traditional theatrical performance:


Háttuồng, also called hátbội, was introduced to Vietnam from China in the 13th century. Hence, it is strikingly similar to Chinese opera. Originally performed in the royal courts, it is now performed by travelling troupes to farmers and ordinary citizens, featuring many well-known characters.


On the other hand, Hátchèo is a form of satirical musical theatre originating in northern Vietnam. It was traditionally performed by Vietnamese peasants in semi-amateur touring groups, who would typically perform in open courtyards in the villages.

Unlike other theatrical forms suited for royal court, Hátchèo uses less props, costumes and make-up. The message of the performances often criticizes the existing social order. Today it is increasingly also performed indoors, by professional performers.


Cảilương is a form of modern folk opera with both contemporary and historical themes. The performance is characterized by its singing, which uses a great deal of vibrato.

It is accompanied by the Vietnamese traditional chamber music, nhạctàitử. While it is still comparatively more popular than Háttuồng and Hátchèo, its popularity has declined since the 1970s and 1980s, especially amongst the younger generation.

Water Puppetry

Water puppetry, called Múarốinước in Vietnamese, is a distinctly Vietnamese form of art, originating from the villages of the Red River Delta in Vietnam. Traditionally, performances would take place on top of flooded rice paddies.

The puppets are made of wood, and attached to wooden rods which are used by the puppeteers to manipulate the puppets. The puppeteers stand waist-deep in the water behind a bamboo screen, so that the audience can only see the puppets moving, but do not see the puppeteers.

While this art almost died out before it was revived in 1984, it is now a popular entertainment for tourists, seeking to enjoy a uniquely Vietnamese experience.

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Traditional Dances

Traditional dances are often incorporated into Vietnamese theatrical performances mentioned above, but usually the dances are performed freely without a set of rigid rules, unlike other specific dance styles.

Imperial Court Dance

There are a variety of imperial court dances which originated in the Tran and Nguyen dynasties. The dancers usually wear extravagant costumes. Now these dances are performed at festivals or on other special occasions.

Some of the better-known dances include: fan dance, lotus dance, lantern dance, and many others. These dances are accompanied by imperial court music called nhãnhạc.

Lion Dance

The lion dance originated in China and is commonly performed in Vietnam during the Lunar New Year. It is the symbolism for warding off evil spirits. The dance often incorporates martial arts and acrobatics.

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Traditional Music Genre

Vietnam has a unique and very diverse music culture with many genres, utilizing many different instruments. Here are some of the better-known genres:


Nhãnhạc is a genre of imperial court music that is performed along with imperial court dances. This genre of music is recognized by UNESCO as ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.’


Quanho is a genre of Vietnamese folk singing, characterized by alternating male and female singers. Most songs have a sentimental feel and deal with topics of love.

Ca trù

Ca trù is an ancient genre of chamber music with a female singer. It used to be likened to geisha-form of entertainment, as it was used to entertain wealthy people. In 2009, Ca trù was considered by UNESCO as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ in need of urgent safeguarding.

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Traditional Musical Instruments

There are numerous musical instruments which are unknown internationally. Many of these instruments are related to musical instruments from China. Below is a selection of Vietnamese traditional instruments.

Be Captivated by Vietnam’s Performing Arts

We highly recommend you explore Vietnam’s traditional performances as an integral part of Vietnam’s culture. As part of our Vietnam tour , we will take you to enjoy Vietnam’s beautiful Ca trù performances at Thang Long Ca Tru Guild in Hanoi, where you can enjoy the sounds of Vietnam’s unique musical instruments first-hand.

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