In Ca tru – One of the tradition musical genres of Vietnam is well known because of the perfect cooperation between singings and voices and musical instruments: phach (small wooden sticks beaten on a small bamboo platform to serve as percussion, dan day ( a long-necked, 3 –string lute), trong chau ( praise drum)
… However, hardly anyone thinks that one of the elements to make Ca Tru successful and impressive is dancing in Ca tru which helps creates the special features in Vietnam traditional Ca Tru. In which Bai Bong dance is regarded as the zenith of Ca Tru in Vietnam.
Bai Bong dance can be called Bat Bai Bong- a dance belongs to the systems of dances in Ca tru ( including mua Bo bo, mua Tu Linh, mua Bai Bong). This dance is often performed in big festivals in music schools, or in very grave spaces like temples, pagodas to worship twice a year on the birthday of Ca tru ancestors in March and in November (lunar calendar) Besides, in authoritarian spaces: edifices of mandarins, big longevity wishing ceremonies, this dance is also performed. Ca Tru artists still consider Mua Bai Bong as a dance to keep time in singing and serves in royal palaces. It is regarded as a precious thing because it is only performed in big music schools or singing to worship in sacrifices in temples or edifices of mandarins or palaces of Kings and Queen. Mua Bai Bong used to be known as a precious thing in music schools. As usual, Mua bai bong is performed only big music schools or in singing to worship in cases of sacrifices in temples, edifices of mandarins or serving the king by an orchestra because the cost for the orchestra like that was very expensive . Additionally, the book on Ca Tru compiled by the two authors: Đo Bang Đoan and Đo Trong Hue, published in 1962 also confirms that : “Mua Bai Bong is royal music that is most popular in the world music”.
There are at least 4 dancers in the dancing group in Mua Bai Bong depending on the important levels of the performing spaces that the number of dancers may increase twice: 8 or 16, in big ceremonies : 32 dancers.
As for performing clothes for female vocalists, they wear a nux vomica dress embroidered with gold lame’, the border at the end of the dress is sticked with beads, the hat is sticked with a cotton ball, the two shoulders wear lotus-shaped lamps, the hands hold the paper fan, fold and unfold very flexibly and beautifully. Ca tru singers both sing and dance. All the movements ( singings and dances) match with each other have been renovated a lot which is very new and different from any other dancing styles of other art genres. Accompanying by the dancing group is an orchestra: Quan giap holds the large drum to keep the rhythm, one plays Dan day, A dan nguyet ( a four string lute) (often namely đan tu đoan);a Vietnamese 36 chord zither ( đan tam); a slender drum (trong manh), gongs (chieng) and cylindrical drum( trong com). Sometimes they play the musical instruments quickly and sometimes slowly, which arouses the peace.
Mua Bai Bong includes 9 acts but in fact, the vocalists only perform 6 acts orderly: a song ( overture) – a song namely Bai hat Xuan ( to sing the praise of the country’s happy beautiful sceneries in Spring, Accordingly there are songs on Autumn, Summer, Winter. It is performed very flexibly depending on each season to change the song to match with the performance. After Bai Hat Xuan, Bai Hat Khach will be performed- then Bai Thoi Ho( dao vien ket nghia). It takes one hour to play 6 acts. From the past up to now, hardly any dance lasts long like that.
Mua Bai Bong, ups and downs
Mua Bai Bong is an ancient dance of Vietnam. This dance appeared from Tran Dynasty. Tran Quang Khai established this dance to dance in peaceful festival days of Tran Nhan Tong King. Edited Vietnam Ca tru book wrote Mua Bai Bong composed by Tran Quang Khai to dance in peaceful festival days held by Tran Nhan Tong King after wining the enemy Nguyen-Mong the third times.
However, other opinions were that Mua Bai Bong was composed by Tran Nhat Duat. In Ca Tru poetic collections published in 1987, the poet Ngo Linh Ngoc wrote: Mua Bai Bong was composed by Tran Nhat Dut. As for the identities of the author of Mua Bai Bong can be unsure but many traces showed that it belonged to Tran Dynasty: in the resistance war against Nguyen – Mong at the second time, Tran Dynasty arrested Tuong singer namely Ly Nguyen Cat in the rebel troop of Toa Do, after that, Ly Nguyen Cat volunteered to stay there and teach Tuong , in which there was a piece Vuong mau hien dao which received a lot of attraction to learn of children of royal families.
Mua Bai Bong remaining today is affected by many musical elements of Tuong including, which has the meaning of wishing longevity with the movement reflecting the image of giving peaches and wine luxuriously and the movement reflecting stylish sceneries: giving peaches and wine. The dance was gathered between the spirit of Vietnam attached to the culture of Buddhism,harmonizing with the development of Truc Lam Zen.
In music schools, Mua Bai Bong is considered a dance to wish longevity but in fact, when studying and analyzing the meanings through the arrangement of performances, levels of importance, special marks when analyzing the piece of Ho Dynasty it can be seen that it is not merely a dance having the nature of wishing longevity but this is used to praise the peaceful country’s image as well as the successful meaning of the three times winning Nguyen Mong enemies to create Dong A atmosphere of Tran Dynasty.
However, this is the only remaining information about the appearance of Mua Bai Bong. And it should be until XX century that the documents on Mua Bai Bong will reappear but it is still quite faint. The remaining documents also show that on the occasion of forty years of great jubilee (wishing longevity of 40) of King Khai Đinh (in1924) that the opera orchestra in Thanh Hoa performed this dance in Hue to wish the king longevity. Following were two pictures of a dancing orchestra of Bai Bong of Doctor Charles-Edouard Hocquard, an army doctor who used to follow French expeditionary troops to visit Vietnam at the beginning of XX century.
According to the Master, Ca Tru singer Le Thi Bach Van, the principle of Hanoi Ca tru club: previously there were many localities keeping ancient dances of Ca Tru but now they are rare. Bo Bo dancing and singing at first was existent in Thuong Mo (Dan Phuong, Ha Tay) but only in Lo Khe (Dong Anh, Hanoi). Only four supernatural creature dancing and Bai Bong lost tradition. Such singers as Nguyen Thi Chuc, people’s artist Quach Thi Ho, To Thi Che, although their parents used to professionally sing in temples but at their generations, they only sang in bars and were not taught. After 1955, this form of dancing and singing remains only the memory of some people.
In 1980, song- film makers at temples of Lo Khe,Hanoi audiovisual center planed to reset the scene of Bai Bong dance but regretfully due to the expenditures so it can not be rebuilt. However, we also collect a part of music of Mua Bai Bong which is rebuilt by Singer Kim Duc.
After a period, Mua Bai Bong was at the risk of losing tradition, some researchers tried to find a way to secure them. However, due to not having many documents and realities witnessing so the embellishment may more or less lack the real exactness about the detailed performances. The Singer whose father used to be the educator-camp of the Ca Tru ward of Kham Thien,Pho Đinh On, was taught the dance. And 6 years after training and making performing clothes, this dance officially appeared at Trinh Pagoda(Yen Tu),Quang Ninh on 9/12/2007 as a return to the original point. An ancient dance with nearly 700 years of age reappeared at the beauty spots recorded the most important soul and cultural hallmark of Tran Dynasty- This is one of the necessary tasks in the efforts to restore and develop traditional beautiful cultural values of the country.
The musical Institute is the agency that was appointed the task earliest to make national documents of Ca Tru of Vietnamese people by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to submit UNESCO to consider being recognized as an orally transmitted and intangible masterpiece of the human. For several years, the Institute has already made surveys, collections, researches, and conferences on Ca Tru. During the process of surveying, collecting, researchers found that ( both in Han books and sayings of people), beside the unknown element that how many forms of Ca tru there may be, each dance in each ward was performed in different ways, and with different styles. For example in Bac Ninh, Ca tru at the communal house gate was described: the songstress is not allowed two living things stand alone to sing for sacrifices; in the sacrifice at the communal house there are many couples (actress/songtress) taking part in dancing and singing; the “bo bo” part was performed in the early morning by the songtress; while Mua bai bong was performed in the closing ceremony. ...
To propose measures, Mr. Le Van Toan- the head of the Musical Institute said that : it is necessary to determine forms of Ca Tru(According to the documents in Han, publishing books or the memory of artisans ..?); Determining the criteria to sort out the dance; assessing and confirming and issuing the methods to restore, conserve forms of dancing in Ca tru. Musician Dang Hoang Loan and the researcher Nguyen Thuy Loan said that, it is necessary to rely on artisans- ling humanitarian precious things of the world who are keeping forms of Ca tru dances because only them can have abilities to survive dances of Ca tru.
Mua bai bong although simple in movements but dancers should learn by heart the singings to combine with the movement with each singing, which are different from normal dances when dancers only listen to the tune can dance. The singing was written in Han which was difficult to learn by heart.
Mua Bai Bong with many other dances and traditional customs of the country are now being restored. However, there are many challenges as well as obstacles in the restoring process. The finding of evidences, original documents themselves recorded dances or ancient customs of the nation is extremely difficult.