The Hát Bội workshop by Cultura Fish at AYTF attracted nearly 80 young people from 14 Asian countries and received very positive feedback from the participants.

If only Team Cá could “capture” the atmosphere of those 120 minutes in a box and bring it back here to share with everyone! It was lively and bustling beyond words.

Early on, Cultura Fish members arrived at the workshop venue to set up the sound system, arrange tables and chairs, and donned the traditional male armor of Hát Bội to greet participants in the most solemn manner. The striking appearance of the male armor (worn by Josh Trombley, arranged by Uyên Phương) along with the music of Hát Bội immediately captivated the international guests at check-in; everyone seemed eager to see what Team Cá had in store next. This male armor is actually a performance costume from the Hồ Chí Minh City Hát Bội Art Theater, which we were fortunate to borrow with support from the theater’s artists.

“O friends from five continents! 

As we: From the land across the sea 

Come to this festival with bells ringing Vietnam – Cá sends golden hearts Bringing cultural heritage to share with friends” (written by Vương Hoài Lâm)

Inspired by the Xây Chầu – Đại Bội ritual, observed during Kỳ Yên festivals, Team Cá prepared a small opening act for the workshop. In this performance, Cultura Fish members carried papier-mâché masks painted in the Hát Bội style, walking gracefully and reciting a welcoming poem. This poem was a gift from researcher Vương Hoài Lâm, who often calls himself a “longtime theatergoer.” Unable to bring all Hát Bội materials to AYTF, we selected elements of makeup (papier-mâché masks), a bit of Hát Bội singing and speaking (nói lối xuân), and some basic dance moves, which already created an enthusiastic atmosphere in the workshop room.

Opening act inspired by the Xây Chầu – Đại Bội ritual

After the exciting opening act, Cultura Fish introduced the history of Vietnamese Hát Bội and its characteristic stylized elements. We even taught the young participants the word “đẹp” (beautiful) to remind them that everything on the Hát Bội stage – from costumes, literature, makeup, dance moves, to singing and speaking – must be “exaggerated beautifully” (a characteristic stylization). This idea came from our dance practices with artist Bảo Châu, who constantly reminded us to “make it beautiful.” After the workshop, hearing young people from 14 Asian countries repeatedly say “đẹp” filled us with joy! Hát Bội, after all, must be beautiful!

The main part of the workshop: Practicing Hát Bội dance moves

Based on what we were taught by artist Bảo Châu in the “Knowing Oneself and Others” program and subsequent practices, Cultura Fish introduced nine basic movements of Hát Bội to over 80 international participants. These movements include cầm, trốc, khán, khai, niêm, thinh, ký, cầu, and more. Members Josh Trombley (wearing the male armor), Đức Tùng, and Uyên Phương enthusiastically guided and corrected each participant, just as we were taught by the Hát Bội artists. AYTF attendees, though familiar with dance, were amazed by the difficulty, aesthetic quality, and impressive look of Hát Bội dance moves. The lively, energetic practice session was incredibly fun, and looking back at the photos, we still feel moved.

After the dance practice, participants were divided into groups to practice and were encouraged to be creative with the Hát Bội dance moves. Most groups performed all nine movements with different formations; one group even used Hát Bội dance moves to depict a cooking scene. If you’re curious about how that’s possible, check out the link below!

Before concluding the workshop, Cultura Fish conducted a quick quiz on Hát Bội’s history and characteristics. The international participants were impressive, remembering the Vietnamese word “đẹp” and the names of the movements “khai, niêm, thinh, ký, cầu.” Those who answered correctly received Hát Bội stickers designed by Josh Trombley and Uyên Phương.

The lively and surprising atmosphere continued until the final act, inspired by the “Tứ Thiên Vương” (Four Heavenly Kings) performance in Đại Bội ceremonies. For added excitement, Josh Trombley, wearing the male armor, painted the Four Sacred Animals (Dragon, Qilin, Turtle, Phoenix) live on four scrolls. As a visual artist, Josh executed this live painting brilliantly, and the room erupted in applause upon recognizing the Four Sacred Animals. We gifted these scrolls to the AYTF organizers.

The final act inspired by the “Tứ Thiên Vương” performance

After the workshop, Cultura Fish members were continuously invited for photos with attendees from various countries. Everyone thanked us for an interesting workshop and insisted on photos with the male armor, scrolls, and Cultura Fish members. We felt an overwhelming sense of pride, emotion, and joy, wishing we could livestream it all to share with our friends and the Hát Bội artists who followed our journey.

At AYTF 2023, Cultura Fish was one of two groups not performing, so the organizers graciously extended our workshop time to 120 minutes. We prepared and practiced diligently to share what we cherish about Hát Bội 


✽ Cultura Fish (Hiếu Văn Ngư): Established in 2020, Cultura Fish is a group dedicated to the research, application, and creation of culture and arts. With a multidisciplinary approach spanning areas such as education, visual arts, music, history and culture, sports, and culinary arts, the activities of Cultura Fish often touch the hearts of participants. Some notable projects include “Hát bội 101,” “Phong hoa ca vịnh,” and educational programs using role-playing storytelling techniques. Additionally, Cultura Fish collaborates with both domestic and international partners like ICHCAP-UNESCO, the British Council Vietnam, and the Asian Youth Theatre Festival (AYTF).

Contact us: 

  • Hà Thúc Đức Tùng (Project Manager) | [email protected] | +84 934 848 800 (Zalo, Whatsapp)