Elle-“Hau Dong” (Vietnamese Mediumship) culture and the “Four Palaces" of Viet Tu

Post date 04/18/2018

Inspired by the rituals in Vietnamese Mother Goddess Belief, the Four Palaces Show are described as "an attack on all senses of the viewer" through the effects of sounds, lights, visuals during 45 minutes of performance. The show takes the viewer to touch on the emotions they have never experienced before about a spiritual journey.

ELLE had a talk with director Viet Tu around his newest “spiritual offspring”, his cherish and meticulousness for four years to bring his unique ethnic culture work in the context of tourism market is too short of cultural products for visitors.

This is the first time of the “Four Palaces" debut in Saigon, how do you feel, director Viet Tu?

Bringing the Four Palaces to Saigon audiences is a plan that I have carefully prepared since the beginning of the year to introduce to tourists and southern audiences a piece of national art and a unique tourism product.

I regard the Four Palaces, not only elements of cultural work but also highly entertaining, as the overall attack on all senses of the viewer, because if only I pay attention to the cultural aspect and forget about their entertainment needs, then the performance will fail. We cannot cram in just 45 minutes for someone (even us) to understand a local culture. What I want The Four Palaces is to impress and emphasize the audience so that what they learn back home will continue to bring them back to us.


The two assistants (left & right) carrying the costumes changing process for the medium (center) in The
Reincarnation of The Second Lady of Highland. This part of the reincarnation shows how careful and
patient the process needs to be. Moreover, contemporary performing skills were applied when the two
assistants have to carry the process with the same speed without peeking at each other. To be able to
performthis part, the two assistants spent 3 months for practicing just for a“perfect”
3 minutes of performance.
Source: Viet Theatre

The crew not only brought an eye-catching performance but also a cultural space. How about the journey of three years to learn thoroughly and a year of staging?

Before the Four Palaces I have never done any art projects like that. I believe I was chosen to do this. Along with that, I think that we are in the forefront of creating exceptional cultural products for international visitors, something that many years ago, when I was standing in front of some world-class theaters, I still thought about.

I think if it is a cultural product, the most important element is the atmosphere. It must be carefully prepared to every detail. We have often referred to the concept of "oversimplicity" to cover the lack of art in every performance. Therefore, from the early days preparing The Four Palaces, I decided to bring the whole scene and decorations from Hanoi Theater (from the set of a giant stage decoration, traditional paper installations with ratio 1:1, even from lotus seeds, other accessories ...) to Saigon to ensure the audience live up to the inherent atmosphere of the show.


The Tenth Prince character played by actress Kim Lien (in the yellow costume). All the visual of the
performance was prepared carefully and creatively by scanning ancient Hang Trong worshipping paintings
drew by old Vietnamese traditional painters and putting them in a modern video art. This method
embraces the movement of the character and directly creates a miraculous sensefor audiences bringing
them to the space full of cultural experience.

Source: Viet Theatre

In the many exhibited items, many audiences are particularly impressed with the performer’s costumes. Can you share more about the making of the costume for the performer?

With the costume for Hau Dong, you can make them from a few dollars up to several hundred dollars for a set, but sincerity is more important. With the Four Palaces, costumes are important elements that describe the stature and position of the characters, so they cannot be made carelessly. My assistants have close relationships with artisans to keep up to date with the most beautiful and subtle details of the costumes. I would like even if the suit is no longer used for performance, it can still be displayed as a work for everyone to admire. Famous fashion designer Kenzo, who came to see The Four Palaces, was impressed by the beauty, sophistication and splendor of the sets. He said he had never seen such beautiful and delicate costumes. Ambassadors, charge d’affaires, and cultural attachés all shared the same feeling of surprise with the uniqueness of this original culture. I believe that their emotions will contribute an important part to promote the beauty of Vietnam to the world.


Distinguished costumes combined with special props (green torch) are highlights of The Reincarnation
of The Second Lady of Highland. The costume was 100% hand-embroidered and took nearly a month to finish.
Every detail must be perfect since it represents the characteristics of an attractive and calm Goddess.
Source: Viet Theatre

“Chau van” is regarded as a unique and beautiful belief of Vietnamese, but many people have distorted this ritual and made many people hesitant to receive. How did you overcome that barrier to bring it back to the roots of culture?

I did this slowly. The beauty of art in the Belief is pure and always teaches people to practice good things. In addition, as Mother Goddess Belief was recognized by UNESCO as a very important Belief of Vietnamese, this has become a solid foundation for not only the religious practice community to understand more about the beauty of the Belief, but also artists to have a firm base to further develop projects such as The Four Palaces.

The “Four Palaces” was not just performed in Saigon but also in many cultural events on the world. Do you personally find the points to improve it?

After more than a year of acting, with almost 200 shows, I have faith in the structure of the play. Currently at the layer of The Tenth Prince, I want to add some suitable background decorations. The thing I want to do the most is to create a black curtain system to seal the interior space of the theater. It will create a magical feeling when the audience entering the theater, they will fall into a space-like area. If nothing changes, we will officially begin working on a new set of layers so that we will eventually have a full 36-layer system to create an “ecosystem” of literary products.


The Tenth Price (in the yellow costume) is enjoying his favorite wines – one of the most romantic scenes
of The Four Palaces Show. Two assistants (left and right) show their respect to the Prince by using
fans to cover his back every time he has a drink.

Source: Viet Theatre

And director Viet Tu, after the “Four Palaces ", do you intend to break the limit of yourself?

The Four Palaces is only the starting point. I did everything not to challenge myself but I thought that I was "chosen" to do. After the Four Palaces I have some activities to be implemented, hopefully can introduce to everyone in the near future. I feel that there is a special connection between me and folk art, which I have pursued for many years. I believe that only the origin, as well as national identity, is what helps us to be positioned in this flat world.

Thank you for taking the time!