Cheo is a type of Vietnamese folk stage art. Cheo appears and develops in the Northern Delta. This kind of stage evolves strongly and has an outstanding national trait. While the representative delegates of Chinese traditional drama is Beijing opera and of Japan is Noh, the most typical traditional drama of Vietnam is Cheo.
Red river delta is always the center of rice civilization of Vietnamese. In harvest season, they celebrate the festivals to enjoy and show the gratefulness to the Saint because of his support to their harvest. From the 1st millennium before Christ, they knew to perform the first Cheo on the court yard. The main musical instrument is Cheo drum. The drum which is a part of Vietnamese ancient tradition is played by the farmer to beg for the rain and perform Cheo.
Cheo originated from music and folk dance, especially the imitation from the 10th century. After that, based on the imitation game, Vietnamese developed short stories of Cheo and make it longer and more complete.
The development of Cheo marks an important point which is the time that a Mongolian soldier was caught in Vietnam in the 14th century. He had been an actor so that he brought Beijing opera art of China into Vietnam. In the past, Cheo only had speaking part. However, affected by the art that the soldier brought, Cheo adds a singing part.
In the 15th century, Le Thanh Tong King did not allow to perform Cheo in the court because of the influence of Confucianism. Not supported by the court, Cheo returned to the initial fans- farmers, took the scenario from Chinese-transcribed Vietnamese stories. In the 18th century, the form of Cheo highly developed in the countryside of Vietnam and reached the peak in late 19th century. Famous work of Cheo such as Quan Am Thi Kinh, Luu Binh Kim Duong, Kim Nham, and Truong Vien appeared in this period. In the 19th century, Cheo was affected by Tuong. It exploited some of the tales like Tong Tran, Pham Tai or Chinese tale like Han Son Tranh Hung. In the early 20th century, Cheo was brought to the urban stage and became civilized Cheo. There were some new work based on the tales and Chinese-transcribed Vietnamese stories such as To Thi, Nhi Do Mai.
Unlike Tuong which only raises the praise of heroic action of classes of rank and fashion, Cheo describes the ordinary life of the countryside people. The thirst for living peacefully in an unfair feudal society is the outstanding feature of Cheo’s content. Lots of Cheo work illustrates the poor life of women who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others. The content of Cheo is extracted from fairy tales, Chinese-transcribed Vietnamese stories and improved to the equal level to stage art which has the realistic values and deep thoughts. In Cheo, the good always win the bad, the warm-hearted candidates always pass the exams and their faithful wives will reunite with their husbands.
This is one of the famous play of Cheo: "Tam Cam"
The tales come mainly from fairy tales, Chinese-transcribed stories; music, dance and poem are from the folk society. Cheo work which usually performs the happy event or the bad habit of people is Blind Teacher, Mute Huong, The Deaf, Quan Am Thi Kinh. Besides, Cheo also shows the mercy in the Truong Vien.
Cheo always sticks to the romance, expresses the feeling and emotion of people, and reflects the common concern of human: love and friendship
Characters in Cheo
Characters in Cheo are often conventional, standardized and well-formed. The characteristics of them are stable with their role. Supporting characters can be changed and act in every work so that they do not have their own names. People can call them teachers, candidates, clowns… However, through time, some of the characters like Thiet The, Thi Kinh, Thi Mau, Suy Van escape from the convention and become a character that has a distinct personality.
Cheo artists are well-dressed to express the soul of the given characters in each play
Generally, actors of Cheo are amateurs who gather together in some folk art organizations called Cheo district. The clown usually appears in Cheo. He is allowed to mock freely like the clown in the European palace. Scenes which has clown role are the place for the people to criticize the bad habits of feudal society or even the King, officials and the rich people. There are 2 main types of Clown: short-shirted Clown and long-shirted Clown
Cheo performing techniques
Cheo is an art which is the mixture of folk song, folk dance and other different folk arts in the Northern Delta. It is a free form of narrating by the performance of actor in the stage to communicate with the public. The folk stage is usually simple, which leads to the terms “Cheo court yard” or “Cheo mat”. Features of Cheo art include drama, narrating technique, method of showing characters’ personality, and convention. The languages used in Cheo are Chinese poems, tales, and free proverbs.
Cheo does not have a fixed five-step structure like European stage but the actors have to cope with the role. Therefore, the drama can last after a long or short time based on the inspiration of the actors or the demand of the audience. Unlike operas which require the artists to learn by heart all the lyrics and sing along with the conductor, Cheo artists can feel free to change the tune to express the feeling of the characters. The number of Cheo tunes is approximately 200.
Cheo uses at least 2 musical string instruments namely Dan Nguyet and erhu along with a flute. Besides, the instrumentalists also utilize drums and Chum Choe.
They are the most popular instrument for Cheo.
A full percussion has a big drum, small drum, cymbal, and Mo. Small drum is used for hold the beat of singing and dancing. It is said that “no drum, no Cheo”, which means the importance of the drum in Cheo performance. In the modern Chep, there are some other musical instruments making the drama more plentiful such as Dan Thap Luc, zither, Dan Nguyet, Tieu…
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