Cao Trung Vinh
Xuan Pha village (Xuan Truong commune, Tho Xuan district, Thanh Hoa province) has long preserved one of the most mysterious and unique folk performances in Vietnam – the Xuan Pha folk dances.
In September 2016, Xuan Pha folk dances were recognized as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage.
These dances have been practiced for generations, recalling events from the ninth century
Residents of Xuan Pha village still tell the story of how, when the country was invaded in the ninth century, King Dinh Tien Hoang sent envoys to search for talented people to help fight the enemy. Forced by a storm to spend the night in Xuan Pha’s communal house, the king’s envoy prayed to the tutelary god of Xuan Pha village, the Great Dragon God. That night, the king dreamt the tutelary god taught him how to defeat the invaders. The king’s troops followed this strategy and achieved victory.
In thanks, the king held a celebratory festival at the shrine of Xuan Pha’s tutelary god and ordained him as “Supreme Lucky God of Greatest Holiness”, “Grand Dragon King of the Sea” and “General Hoang Lang”. During the victory celebrations, representatives of neighboring countries brought local specialties as gifts and danced to congratulate the king of Vietnam. Foreign parties hailed from Ai Lao (Laos), Ngo Quoc (a tribe on Hainan island, China), Hoa Lan (a Goryeo tribe in Korea), Chiem Thanh (Champa in the South), and Luc Hon Nhung (Luc Hon tribe in the North). The king dedicated the dances from these five countries to Xuan Pha village. They were called “the tributes of the five neighboring countries”.
Xuan Pha dances have been passed down ever since. During the annual Xuan Pha Festival, held on the ninth and tenth days of the second lunar month, villagers pay homage to the tutelary god and perform Xuan Pha dances. The Hoa Lan dance (also known as the Hoa Lang dance) recreates the Hoa Lan delegation bringing tributes to the king of Dai Viet. The group is led by a qilin that resembles a sea serpent, dancing with its body close to the ground, as if swimming. A Vietnamese girl welcomes the delegates, who wear high hats and masks. The performance ends with a paddle dance.
The Luc Hon Nhung dance (also known as the Tu Huan dance) depicts the Tu Huan tribe bringing tributes to the king of Dai Viet. This dance is led by an old husband and wife who survived some genocide. Hearing their mother’s howls, her children jump out, five on each side. They all wear bamboo hats and masks with dots, as if they have smallpox. Each mask has a different number of teeth, from one to five. The ten children dance in a two-row formation, following the mother’s movements. They sometimes howl as they jump. They adopt a rowing posture when they sing, and play castanets when they dance.
The Chiem Thanh dance depicts the Champa delegation offering tributes. Several soldiers in strange wooden masks follow the Lord and the Lady and perform unusual dance moves. Their postures change abruptly, from standing to stooping to kneeling, as in martial arts. Their hands form twisted shapes like those of ancient Champa statues.
The Ai Lao dance recreates the delegation from Ai Lao paying tribute to the king of Dai Viet. At the forefront, elephants and tigers dance with hunters. The old king of Ai Lao is so weak that his hands, feet, and head shake. He can barely walk. Ten soldiers dance in two rows with flexible movements that represent hunting and gathering activities.
The Ngo Quoc dance features performers dressed as Chinese people attending the festival in the capital of Dai Viet. Their delegation includes a Chinese Lord, two female fairies, a Lady, a feng shui master, a Chinese physician, a candy seller, and ten soldiers. When the drums start, they take the stage and perform dances to symbolize their jobs. The Chinese Lord performs a sword-dancing repertoire to demonstrate his prestige.
Xuan Pha dances combine dancing, singing, theater, and story-telling. The dance moves are all different and the artists use colorful costumes, masks, hats, hairstyles, props, and beards to show different attributes of the people they represent. Performers in the Chiem Thanh, Hoa Lang, and Tu Huan dances wear masks. Specifically, the masks used for Chiem Thanh and Hoa Lang dances are not worn but held in place with wooden handles. The Tu Huan, Hoa Lang, and Ngo Quoc dances have their own songs. The Hoa Lan and Ngo Quoc dances feature a scene in which a Vietnamese girl welcomes the visitors.
Each festival attracts thousands of visitors. The vitality of this heritage has been passed down for generations, demonstrating the cultural and spiritual identity of Xuan Pha village.