Kaleidoscopic Theatrical Spectacles in Hoan Kiem Lake’s Pedestrian Paradise

Immerse yourself in the captivating charm of Hanoi's Old Quarter as it unveils a vibrant tapestry of newly staged folk performances. These authentic cultural expressions enrich the vibrant offerings for discerning travelers seeking an immersive experience in Vietnam's captivating capital.

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Since mid-April, visitors to the Hoan Kiem Lake pedestrian area have been treated to enthralling performances by theaters belonging to the Hanoi Department of Culture and Sports.

 The Cheo folk singing performance in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Photo: Quynh Anh

The folk theater performances in Hanoi will be held at the following venues:

Music and dance performances – both traditional and modern – by the Thang Long Theater will be held on Saturday and Sunday evenings until August 2024 in the flower garden of Ba Kieu Temple, in front of the Monument of Suicide Defenders.

On a stage near Ba Kieu Temple, the Hanoi Cheo Theater will showcase excerpts and songs of Xam, Hat van, Ca tru, Cheo, folk music, and traditional music every Friday night from April to October 2024. In November and December, in addition to Friday night performances, the theater will also have Saturday night shows on the same stage.

While in front of the Workers’ Theater at 42 Trang Tien Street, Hoan Kiem District, the Hanoi Drama Theater will perform play excerpts, short plays, and sketches on Friday and Saturday evenings from mid-April to December 2024.

 Ca Tru singing performed by singer Thu An in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Photo courtesy of the singer 

At the Rap Chuong Vang or Golden Bell Theater at 72 Hang Bac Street, the Hanoi Cai Luong Theater will perform plays and excerpts of cai luong plays, Don ca tai tu songs, folk songs, modern folk songs, and traditional songs every second and fourth Friday and Saturday night from April to October 2024. In November and December, the schedule will be expanded to every Friday and Saturday night.

The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre will stage water puppets, land puppets, and musical performances every Saturday night from April to October 2024, right in front of its premises at 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street. In November and December, its Sunday night performances will be added to the Saturday shows at the same location.

Back in the flower garden of Ba Kieu Temple, in front of the Monument to Suicide Defenders, the Hanoi Circus and Variety Arts Theater will present circus acts, variety shows, and musical performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings from September to December 2024.

Known for its use in deity mediumship rituals, Hat van singing is a northern Vietnamese folk art that combines trance singing and dance.

Also originating from the northern region, Ca tru singing is a genre of musical storytelling performed by a songstress, lute players, and special spectators. In 2009, it was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

Another endangered genre of folk music from northern Vietnam, Xam singing is usually performed by blind buskers in the dynastic time. Xam artists often sing and play Dan Bau (monochord zither) solo, sometimes in a band – with others playing traditional instruments.

Cheo singing is a form of generally satirical musical theater, often involving dance, typically performed by Northern Vietnamese semi-amateur itinerant troupes in a village square or a public building’s courtyard.

Cai luong, roughly translated as ‘reformed theater’, is a form of modern folk opera that blends Southern Vietnamese folk songs, classical music, Tuong singing (a classical theater form based on Chinese opera), and modern spoken drama.

As another specialty of Southern Vietnam, Don ca tai tu is a genre of traditional chamber music. Its instrumentation resembles that of the Ca Hue style, alongside modified versions of the European guitar, violin, and steel guitar. 

Roi nuoc or Water puppetry is a Vietnamese tradition that dates from as far as the 11th century, stemming from the Red River Delta in the north. A traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides background music, while Cheo singers perform songs that tell the story being acted out by the puppets, often with rural themes and humorous twists.