Water puppetry, a distinctive Vietnamese art and an intangible cultural heritage of Vietnamese people, has come closer to international friends thanks to efforts made by water puppet artist Phan Thanh Liem.
Phan Thanh Liem performs with a water puppet
Dubbed “The ambassador of Vietnam’s pastoral arts”, Liem has charmed both domestic and international audiences when joining in a line-up of festivals in the UK, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Canada, Italy and Poland over the past 16 years.
Liem is now rushed off his feet to attending the World Wood Day as a guest of honour, which will take place in Long Beach, the US from March 19-27. The event, themed “Root”, creates a venue for Liem to deliver stellar performances and introduce methods to make water puppets.
He has made a big splash with his mini water puppetry stage, including a small semi-circular pool made of wood and corrugated iron, which can be easily assembled, and mini puppets. Those small items help him to deliver solo water puppet performances.
Liem also opens a small stage at home in Kham Thien street to welcome audiences, helping them to learn more about traditional water puppetry and experience the life of an artisan.
In addition to restoring traditional puppetry, Liem has created new puppetry shows reflecting current events, including traffic culture, protection of sea and island sovereignty, environment protection.
He was born to a family of seven generations that have been preserving water puppetry in Rach village, Nam Chan commune, Nam Truc district, the northern province of Nam Dinh. His grandfather, Phan Van Huyen, was a puppet craftsman and artisan and his father, the famous puppeteer Phan Van Ngai, created the mobile water puppetry stage. He also made “chu Teu” (a humourous farmer) puppet, which is being displayed in France’s Louvre Museum.
Water puppetry is a traditional form that dates back to the 11th century Ly Dynasty. Villagers in the Red River Delta and other rice-growing regions in the north of Vietnam staged water puppet performances to celebrate the end of the rice harvest, religious festivals and other important occasions.