How Sun World theme parks strive to help traditional culture thrive

By Phat Dat   July 18, 2019 | 12:00 am PT
By hosting free traditional theater and classical music shows, the Sun Group seeks to stoke appreciation among a larger audience.

Hundreds of years ago, water puppet shows were a popular cultural activity for Vietnamese royalty and peasants alike. Many villages would have had their own troupe in those days. But very few do today. One of the last is Dao Thuc, once a countryside village, but now part of the Hanoi suburbs.

The village is still well-known for water puppets and the artisans are enthusiastic and skilled practitioners of the age-old art form. But there are not many left. Like the other traditional art forms in Vietnam such as cheo, tuong and cai luong, water puppetry has struggled to find audiences in a modernizing society.

As a result, this is far from a lucrative occupation. Many of the artisans have had to find other jobs to make a living as carpenters, mechanics, and other trades. As a result, the number of guild members in Dao Thuc village has dwindled over the years. There are less than two dozen today.

With so few opportunities for water puppeteers to find full-time work in Vietnam, one man, Nguyen Van Tam from Quang Ninh Province was thrilled he could actually find full-time work doing what he loves at the Moonlight Water Puppet Theatre in Sun World Halong Complex in Ha Long Town, Quang Ninh.

Nguyen Van Tam

Nguyen Van Tam at the Moonlight Water Puppet Theatre.

"Before working for the theater at Sun Group, I was just an artist with a great passion for water puppetry. I loved it dearly but over the course of 17 years, sometimes I thought I would have to give it up. I could barely make ends meet. Then one day, I heard that Sun Group was building Moonlight Water Puppet Theater at the top of Ba Deo Mountain in Ha Long. I couldn’t believe my luck when I was offered a job and was told I could start immediately," Tam said.

Recalling his most memorable show, Tam said: "When I first performed in the beautiful open amphitheatre, it started raining heavily but the band played on, covering their heads and instruments with umbrellas, and the audience – all dressed in raincoats – didn’t budge! It was joyful occasion. I peeked through the curtain and I could see how the foreign visitors were really engaged by the show. They loved it. There’s no better feeling than seeing you are creating memories for an audience with a wonderful performance, especially in the middle of a downpour!"

To encourage one and all to watch a performance, visitors at Sun World Halong Complex do not have to buy a ticket to watch the water puppet show. It’s completely free. The purpose of Moonlight Water Puppet Theater is to enrich the visitor’s experience and highlight this centuries-old art form, not just in the eyes of international visitors, who are always intrigued by Vietnamese water puppet shows, but also domestic tourists, who are less prone to watching one in this day and age.

The Moonlight Water Puppet Theatre.

The Moonlight Water Puppet Theatre in Sun World Halong Complex in Ha Long Town.

Last but not least, part of Sun Group’s motivation is to support artists like Tam pursue his life-long passion for this traditional art. The bottom line is if the most skilled practitioners can’t make a living, this unique cultural attraction would soon be a pale imitation of its former self.

Hills reverberate with the sound of music

Last summer, Sun Group also set out to fill Sun World Ba Na Hills in central Vietnam with the glorious sounds of classical music. At 11 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. on a daily basis from July 18 to 24, the Sun Symphony Orchestra put on a 45-minute performance in the middle of Beer Plaza square, delighting all visitors at Sun World Ba Na Hills.

Knowing this would be a memorable, unique occasion, Sun Group Ba Na Hills invited the Sun Symphony Orchestra to perform under the baton of renowned French conductor Olivier Ochanine.

It was a wonderful opportunity for visitors to see an orchestra perform live. For those who are not familiar with classical music, there was a discernible thrill in hearing the stirring flourishes of Habanera from Carmen, the epic Blue Danube, the soft and fleeting Salut d’Amour and, yes, of course, the vibrant Sound of Music - and many more timeless melodies.

Each day the audience quickly grew and every beautifully performed piece was greeted with rapturous applause. Whether they were familiar with the work of genius composers such as Maurice Ravel, Johan Strauss Jr. or Franz von Suppé, didn’t matter. To be high up in the mountains and hear such wonderful music was a truly special experience for everyone.

Braving the logistical challenges

On a logistical level, bringing an orchestra (and all of their precious instruments) up Ba Na Mountain to an elevation of 1,500 meters wasn’t a straightforward task. All instruments were transported from Hanoi to Da Nang in a special container then transferred item by item to the cable car’s cabin then to a warehouse and finally the stage.

But seeing how the audiences were moved, everyone agreed it was worth the efforts made to fill Sun World Ba Na Hills with the sounds of classical music. This event underscored how Sun World Ba Na Hills strives to deliver unique experiences of high quality and class in spite of the significant costs and logistical challenges.

"We desire to bring classical music to Ba Na so that visitors to this tourist site can savor an exciting cultural experience in the quintessentially European space of Ba Na," said Nguyen Lam An, director of Sun World Ba Na Hills. "Even though preparing a stage for a philharmonic orchestra, comprising nearly 60 musicians, and delivering all of their professional musical instruments up to the Ba Na Mountain were far from easy tasks, the passionate and emotional response of the audience has further motivated us to continue delivering such elevated experiences for our guests no matter what the investment."

The Sun Group recognizes that promoting culture is a great responsibility that goes beyond chasing profits. By promoting under-appreciated performing arts and classical orchestras in Vietnam, it has also shown that these precious forms of cultural entertainment can thrive with the right care and investment.

The Sun Group recognizes that promoting culture is a great responsibility that goes beyond chasing profits.

The Sun Group recognizes that promoting culture is a great responsibility that goes beyond chasing profits.

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