Ten years in the making, the Quintessence of Tonkin is an outdoor spectacle that reaffirms Hanoi's position as the cultural capital of Vietnam. Showcasing traditional elements of Vietnamese culture in a contemporary and innovative way, the Quintessence of Tonkin delivers audiences a unique and memorable exploration of the Red River Delta — the beating heart of northern Vietnam.
Inspired by the poetry of Nguyen Khuyen, the folk song Tat Nuoc Dau Dinh and the lullaby of Tonkin, the opening scene of The Quintessence of Tonkin spotlights tradtional, rural life in Vietnam.
Local girls sit chatting and laughing near the lotus pond while local boys jest and joke around them, trying to get their attention. Nearby, villagers plant rice in the fields and tend their crops and livestock. Men fish in the river, pulling their silvery catches out of the water onto the banks. A mother gently sings a lullaby to her baby, the sound echoing pure and clear across the village...
The next scene focuses on the story of Tu Dao Hanh, the venerable monk who founded the Thay Pagoda. Known as The Master, Tu Dao Hanh was also a medic and a mystic who healed the impoverished sick and asked for no payment in return. He taught the local residents of the village cultivation and also the art of water puppetry, which is now firmly entrenched in Vietnamese culture. In this scene, Tu Dao Hanh appears near the lotus garden, with graceful dragonflies gliding around him accompanied by laser lights. In the background plays the smooth harmony of the Quan Ho folk song, Se Chi Luon Kim.
In this scene, candidates bring their cloth bags and bamboo tents to the Thang Long Citadel for their mandarin examination. Many sit for the exam and most fail. It is a difficult exam but for those who are successful, a promising future awaits.
The Citadel is an integral part of the 4300m2 setting of lake and compound, and reflects the importance of learning and hard work to the Vietnamese. The music is rousing and the lighting vibrant to underscore the significance of history and tradition.
Music & Painting
Drawing inspiration from the poetry of female artist Ho Xuan Huong, four screens depicting young women appear on the darkened surface of the lake. Utilising 3-D mapping technology, the images on the water are also projected simultaneously onto the stage and are reminiscent of Tonkin folk paintings from the village. Each girl plays a different traditional Vietnamese musical instrument: flute, four-chord lute, two-chord fiddle and two-chord guitar. While the music wafts over spectactors, beautiful fairies fly and dance, gracefully skimming the surface of the lake.
Peace & Harmony
Religious beliefs and activities play an important role in the lives of villagers. The worship of the Third Holy Mother and Mother Goddess — saints who are in charge of the rice fields and help with successful farming and agriculture — give villagers a more comfortable life.
This scene depicts farmers working in the rice paddies — an image that is essentially Vietnam — and is closely associated with wet rice cultivation. The bumper crop is harvested by hard-working farmers, with laser lights and ancient folk songs accompanying the performers to demonstrate accomplishment.
Joy & Festival
In this last scene, a festival with games and activities is the focus for the performers. From the "challenge and response" singing competition of Quan Ho folk songs to traditional games that are rarely seen today to the customs of Song Loan to the Song Dinh procession, all are vividly and convincingly portrayed. The finale has all the actors and actresses parade toward the Thay Mountain, which is lit with the image of a lotus flower that represents Tu Dao Hanh. Nguoi Oi Nguoi O Dung Ve is sung as a farewell to the audience from the performers.