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Japanese director lets Vietnamese cast emulate their own emotions



Lê Hương & Hồng Vân

They gather in a spacious room, full of light. Each holds a script, losing themselves the roles they are assigned. Sometimes they read out the dialogue straight off the script, as no one has learned it by heart yet.

From time to time, he stops them to remind or give remarks on their acting.

This has been the usual sight in a rehearsal room of the Youth Theatre in downtown Hà Nội in the past few weeks, as Japanese director Tsuyoshi Sugiyama leads the outstanding Hedda Gabler play by noted Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen with the theatre’s artists.

“We are in the ice-breaking period when the actors start to learn the dialogue and try to understand the characters,” director Sugiyama told Việt Nam News.

“I was very worried at first when being asked to stage the play with the theatre’s actors,” he said. “The play was written 130 years ago by a Norwegian writer. How I can inspire people between 20-40 years old to share the same feelings with the characters? Then I spoke with the actors and found out that they have the same problems in modern Vietnamese society. I was relieved as the play mentions present problems as well.”

Tsuyoshi Sugiyama explains the roles to his cast. — VNS Photo Lê Hương

The director worked with the artists in Uncle Vanya, another play by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), a few years ago. The performance won the Best Play Award at the International Theatre Festival in Việt Nam 2019.

“The story of Hedda Gabler is very simple but has a deeper level of feelings in comparison with Uncle Vanya story,” he noted. “Last time I had to explain what the writer meant in Uncle Vanya. This story is much simpler to understand but not as easy to express the feelings of characters.”

In this first stage, the director lets the actors free to act. He has not guided them on how they should act, or what props to use.

“I let them act as what they feel about the characters. It’s like going in a circle, but it will be quicker if, in the last stage, I figure out how they should act the roles,” he said. “Then it will be very quick as they have grown deep emotions of the characters.”

Youth Theatre stars rehearse Hedda Gabler. — VNS Photo Lê Hương

Sugiyama said they will certainly find a way to decorate the stage both beautifully and exactly to the script, to stimulate the audience’s creativeness.

Love for Việt Nam

Sugiyama commented that artists in the Youth Theatre have many features to describe.

“All of them are suitable for the career,” he remarked. “Sometimes I feel that they are like children, with no limitation. They can think and feel the characters in many ways and can express the roles in various ways, too.”

Sugiyama said he highly appreciates the diligent research of the artists.

“They introduce their own explanations for the characters, for the plays. Their explanations get more and more profound. I strongly believe that with their efforts, the play will succeed,” he said.

Sugiyama wants to make more contributions to Vietnamese theatre. — VNS Photo Lê Hương

The director has been to Việt Nam many times, the longest time being three months long.

“I want to stay to work in Việt Nam even longer this time,” he said. “The food here is so good. I like the hot weather.”

“Vietnamese people are agile and straightforward,” he remarked. “They will speak out if they do not feel ok about something. They are also open and caring of others.”

Sugiyama said he wants to continue to learn about the goodness and even the bad things of Việt Nam.

He said he likes the Old Quarter with its houses with an ancient culture, though the area is sometimes full of tourists.

“I like strolling in the quiet old streets. I also like parks with many trees and lakes, which bring me peace and tranquillity.”

The director said he wants to travel around the country to Sa Pa with various ethnic minority groups and coastal cities like Huế and Đà Nẵng.

“I like vermicelli with fish, phở, nem and coffee. Local coffee is rather strong but we don’t have that in Japan so it attracts me. I will use up my time to explore more delicacies that I haven’t tried.”

Actress Đinh Thu Thủy, who plays the leading role of Hedda Gabler in the play, said she and her colleagues are quite comfortable working with the director.

“I strongly believe that we will succeed as he guided us last time in Uncle Vanya and we won the best play award,” she said. “We are working in a close group together to find out the best ways to express the characters’ feelings. The director then will find out his own way to bring Asian features to the Norwegian play.”

Thủy said her role is quite hard, which requires working with other artists in other roles in the play.

“When taking this role, I know that I needed more knowledge. I should be more creative, acting with greater care to make an interesting Hedda Gabler with the special marks of the Youth Theatre,” she said.

Sugiyama is really enjoying spending more time in Việt Nam. —VNS Photo Lê Hương

Norwegian ambassador to Việt Nam Grete Lochen highlighted that Henrik Ibsen’s themes are still relevant and universal; it’s not just about Norway but more importantly the dimensions between modernity and traditions.

“His messages work equally well today as a hundred years ago,” she said.

Although Việt Nam and Norway are far apart, we all know that culture brings people together and has a common language, she said.

“I think this will be an exciting event both for Norway and Việt Nam and it also had an element of Japan as the director is a Japanese director. I’m excited to see how the Japanese director will together with Vietnamese actors interpret Hedda Gabler…” she said.

Now Sugiyama creates theatre works mainly in Tokyo, Japan. He participates with his company in domestic and international theatre festivals and does theatre workshops in Asian countries as “the education programme for communication through theatre play” for local children, under the support of the Japan Foundation.

Meritorious Artist Nguyễn Sĩ Tiến, director of the Youth Theatre, admits that Sygiyama has a special love for Vietnamese theatre.

“He has many plans to work longer here and make more contributions to Vietnamese theatre,” Tiến said. “For this play, he has many expectations, too. He hopes to win Vietnamese audience’s hearts with this play and wants to bring it to international festivals.” VNS



Cycling champ on track for SEA Games triathlon medal




Nguyễn Thị Kim Cương crosses the finish line of the National Sports Games’ women’s triathlon event in December in Quảng Ninh Province. — VNA/VNS Photo

Thanh Hà

She is small and underweight yet strong and iron-willed. With her sporting achievements, she has proved that size and experience are not the only key components of an athlete’s success.

Nguyễn Thị Kim Cương is a cyclist, but expects to win Việt Nam’s first medal in triathlon at the coming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Cambodia this May.

A woman of sports

Born in 2000 and growing up in the Mekong Delta city of Cần Thơ, Cương was recruited for the city’s junior swimming team when she was an 11-year-old fifth grader. Two years later, she became a member of the national youth squad, but it seemed swimming was not ideal for her.

“I grabbed silvers and bronzes, but don’t remember how many because it was so long ago. I was picked to the national junior team then, but I felt not suited to be a swimmer,” Cương told Việt Nam News.

“Swimmers tend to be above-average height with long torsos and upper limbs. I am not. I am small, as you can see, only 1.53m and 45kg. So I left.”

Cương was then introduced to the cycling team, and when she agreed to make a move, it proved a turning point in her life.

Nguyễn Thị Kim Cương wins the third stage of the 2021 International Bình Dương Television Women’s Cycling Tournament. The young athlete overcomes many strong cyclists to finish second overall. — Photo

“It is the sport for me, I think. Cycling does not require a typical body like swimming but endurance and strong fitness that I already have,” Cương said.

She had to train daily to become familiar with the cycling technique and qualities such as strength, speed and endurance.

“I have to do different exercises like weightlifting and running to improve my physical strength and muscular and anaerobic endurance and power in particular. It is exhausting, but I can make it,” she said.

The girl did not receive family support because her parents were afraid of injuries that she could suffer. They thought cycling was a dangerous sport as many cyclists have faced life-threatening accidents.

“Yep, I have fallen many times and suffered uncountable serious scratches and scars. My parents prevented me from cycling, but I made my own decision. It is my passion, and nothing can change,” she said.

“I promise them that I will always be careful and take care. However, injuries still happen sometimes.”

The talented woman did not need not too much time to make her first achievements in cycling.

“After tests and several weeks practising, coaches found that I am good at mountain biking because of my lightweight, which helps me be faster, and my strong fitness takes charge of injury prevention, power and longevity,” she said.

Under the Cần Thơ team, she won bronze medals in the national junior championships in 2015-18 while she grabbed a white jersey for the best young athlete at the prestigious International Bình Dương Women’s Cycling Tournament three years in a row from 2019-21. 

Nguyễn Thị Kim Cương (2nd from left) and teammates before competing in the women’s road race event at the May 31st SEA Games in Việt Nam. — VNA/VNS Photo 

She was called to the national team for Việt Nam’s 31st SEA Games last May.

In her regional biennial tournament debut, Cương and three teammates successfully took the top position in the road race event, leaving behind powerful Malaysia and Thailand.

“One week before the Games, I fell in a training. It really hurt but could not prevent me from competing. I was not scared or worried but excited for my first SEA Games,” she said.

“All the sacrifices are worth the feeling of having a national flag draped around my shoulders, standing on top of the podium and singing the national anthem. Nothing can compare with the feeling of triumph. My SEA Games debut was a happy milestone which made me more confident in my ability. I will try to maintain my best as long as possible.”

Coach Ðặng Trung Hiếu was impressed by Cương’s performance, saying she showed great progress in a short time training with the national team.

The SEA Games gold was clear evidence of improvement after her silver medal from the Bình Dương TV tournament in 2022.

Nguyễn Thị Kim Cương (1st right) celebrates SEA Games victory with teammates. — VNA/VNS Photo 

Eyeing triathlon

In 2021, it was suggested Cương take part in the TRI Factor Việt Nam, a tournament for triathletes containing swimming, biking and running.

Cương was a new face in triathlon and had not had a single day to practise before race day. However, she overcame all the title favourites and experienced athletes to take the top podium in the women’s standard category (1.5km swimming, 40km cycling, 10km running).

The tournament was a selection event to choose athletes for the 31st SEA Games. With the title, Cương automatically secured a place in the national team, making her a rare case of being named in two national teams of Việt Nam at the same time.

“I chose the cycling team. I could not believe that I won the Tri Factor title because it was a race for iron men and women while I was just taking part for fun,” said Cương.

But Cần Thơ’s sports officials thought differently. They considered Cương a hope to win a gold medal in the National Sports Games, which took place last September.

Cương had three months preparing for the Games and did not disappoint. She won titles in both individual and team events.

In the individuals, Cương finished first with a time of 1hr 14.38min, four minutes faster than Nguyễn Thị Trà My of Hậu Giang Province and nearly 10min faster than Lâm Túc Ngân of HCM City. She completely dominated.

While My is the most experienced athlete in national triathlon, Ngân is even more famous as she is the first and only Vietnamese to take part in the World Ironman Championship, twice. 

“I heard about them before the tournament. But I was not scared. I just tried to complete my best race,” Cương said.

She was the third woman to finish the swimming leg, but went into the lead because of her strong point in biking, leaving other rivals far behind. She continued to lead in the running, crossing the finish line first.

“I knew they were strong, but it seemed I was stronger than them,” Cương laughed.

Nguyễn Thị Kim Cương wins the Tri Factor event in 2021, marking her first day with triathlon. — Photo MTB Series

Her outstanding performance was key to helping Cần Thơ win the team event where they faced the powerhouses of HCM City, which has the best triathletes of Việt Nam.

“I used to be a swimmer. I am now a cyclist. And running is an important part of my daily training. I feel I am really suitable for this new sport, and I seriously practise it now,” said Cương who will represent Việt Nam in triathlon at the upcoming SEA Games.

“Cambodia does not organise my strong point of mountain biking. So I have decided to switch to triathlon. I know that Việt Nam is still far behind other countries, but I will try my best to be in the top three. I want to be the first Vietnamese to win a triathlon medal.” VNS



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Tuồng shows aimed at visitors in Bình Định Province



LONG HISTORY: The State-owned Bình Định Traditional Theatre celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. It has 70 performers and music players. Photo courtesy of Bình Định Traditional Theatre

BÌNH ĐỊNH — The city of Quy Nhơn of Bình Định Province is offering new shows and performances of tuồng (classical drama) for visitors as part of its long-term project to preserve the traditional theatre. 

The shows are staged by talented artists from leading troupes of Bình Định, including the State-owned Bình Định Traditional Theatre. 

Highlighted shows include extracts from famous plays such as, Ông Già Cõng Vợ Trẻ Đi Xem Hội (The old man carries his young wife to see the festival), Hồ Nguyệt Cô Hóa Cáo (Hồ Nguyệt Cô turned into a fox) and Ôn Đình Chém Tá (Ôn Đình beheaded Tá). 

The artists also talk about the history of tuồng, which consists of singing, dancing and music, and its development during various periods, including its evolution from a folk art into a royal art in the 17th century. 

KEEPING IT GOING – Tuồng performers from the Bình Định Tuồng Theatre work hard to keep traditional theatre alive. Photo courtesy of Bình Định Traditional Theatre.

Performances of bài chòi (folk singing), an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO in 2017, are also included. 

Bài chòi originated almost 400 years ago under the reign of the Nguyễn Lords (1558-1777). The art entertained the community during the post-harvest time.

It literally means a deck of cards (bài) and bamboo huts (chòi), and is half game and half theatre performance. 

The art combines music, poetry, acting, painting and literature. 

TRADITIONAL ART – The city of Quy Nhơn of Bình Định Province is working on a long-term project aimed to introduce and expose visitors to tuồng, a traditional genre of Vietnamese theatre that began in the 17th century. Photo courtesy of Bình Định Traditional Theatre

“We are working to integrate performances of tuồng with other cultural activities, festivals and concerts in order to create opportunities for the artists to expand their art,” said Trần Văn Thanh, director of the province’s Department of Tourism. “Our project started last year and targets visitors. We hope to attract and provide vistors with quality traditional art shows.”

Bình Định attracted 4.2 million visitors last year. The province is making every effort to turn tourism into a spearhead economic sector by 2025.

One of the province’s leading art troupes, Bình Định Traditional Theatre, celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. The theatre has 70 performers and music players. 

Tuồng and bài chòi are the spirit of Vietnamese people in the central and south regions. I hope young artists will keep the arts alive,” said theatre director Văn Bá Dũng.

Dũng’s theatre has co-operated with the HCM City Tuồng Theatre to expand their art. Artists from both theatres have worked together to perform, record, shoot and release their performances online.

Shows by Bình Định Traditional Theatre are staged at Nguyễn Tất Thành Boulevard in Quy Nhơn. — VNS


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Netflix releases date and first look images for A Tourist’s Guide To Love



A Tourist’s Guide To Love will be released globally on 27 April 2023, only on Netflix. Photo courtesy of Netflix

HCM CITY — Netflix has released the first images of A Tourist’s Guide To Love – the first international production filmed in Việt Nam since the pandemic.

Featuring an international cast including producer and star Rachael Leigh Cook, Vietnamese-American actor Scott Ly, as well as popular local actors Meritorious Artist Lê Thiện and rising talent Quinn Trúc Trần, A Tourist’s Guide To Love is set to premiere globally on 27 April 2023, only on the streaming giant.

It follows the story of a travel executive (Rachel Leigh Cook) who, after an unexpected breakup, decides to accept an assignment to go undercover and learn about the tourist industry in Việt Nam. Along the way, she finds adventure and romance with her Vietnamese expat tour guide (Scott Ly) when they decide to reroute the journey in order to explore life and love off the beaten path. 

A Tourist’s Guide To Love follows a travel executive (Rachel Leigh Cook) who accepts an assignment to go undercover and learn about the tourist industry in Việt Nam.

The first images offer a first glimpse of A Tourist’s Guide To Love, showcasing many exquisite localities in Việt Nam to a global audience. These include the sparkling Thu Bồn river in Hội An, the ancient and majestic Mỹ Sơn sanctuary, the bustling Bến Thành market, and a peaceful village in the Hà Giang countryside.

Rachael Leigh Cook said: “Việt Nam is insanely beautiful, and the landscape is so incredibly diverse, and that’s why I think it’s so important that we set the movie in so many different places…the topography varies so greatly and it’s such an asset to the movie and to everyone who is able to see it.” 

A Tourist’s Guide To Love, showcases many exquisite localities including the ancient and majestic Mỹ Sơn sanctuary.

The images also tease the rich and vibrant Vietnamese culture reflected in the romantic film. In a festive Tết celebration, Rachael Leigh Cook dons a traditional ‘áo dài’, while Meritorious Artist Lê Thiện welcomes international guests into her cozy village home, dancing joyfully and filling the room with warmth and festive cheer.

Sharing her inspiration behind the script, Vietnamese-American writer Eirene Trần Donohue said: “It was really important to me to tell a story about life in Việt Nam now. One that was full of joy and love and celebration.

“I wanted to change the conversation about Việt Nam, to highlight it as a modern thriving country whose stories are worthy of being told.” — VNS


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