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The Arts

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Long a cultural center of northern Vietnam, Hanoi has an established tradition of supporting and appreciating the arts. While the full aesthetic breadth of many disciplines may have been limited during the hard line communist era, diverse artistic expression is alive and well today.

Painting and sculpture frequently make the first impression on a newcomer to Hanoi. The abundance of shops in and around the Old Quarter is enough to justify the impression, but it should be noted that the majority of these shops deal in reproductions of items with a distinctively local feel. They are essentially craft shops. The inspiration they draw from, however, can be found throughout the city’s many galleries of original work. They support continually rotating exhibitions and welcome both casual fans of various disciplines as well as serious buyers.

Those wishing to get a bit more context on the wide range of influences at work on the modern art scene should consider making their way to the various museums and cultural centers devoted to just such understanding. These organizations offer considerable insight into social, geographical, and temporal forces at work in contemporary Vietnam’s artistic outlook.

A large number of Hanoi’s restaurants, bars, and cafés also routinely offer their wall space to area artists for exhibitions. Tracking down these latest installations is a great way to mix a day on the town with keeping up on the local art scene.

Live music is beginning to find its place in Hanoi. It’s still very far from being a music scene that could compete with other major Asian cities, but there are options for the music loving public.

Karaoke is, by far, the most common and active form of musical entertainment in Hanoi. Live music is frequently appreciated by Vietnamese as more of a general feature of a nightspot’s atmosphere than as a main attraction in this own right. What seems to be appreciated by local crowds in these situations are rather ambient takes on jazz and classical standards that they can comfortably continue their conversations over. Many of the larger cafes frequently provide this sort of music multiple night of the week. The popularity of MTV-driven western pop music has also led to the occasional appearance of “garage bands” playing scattered gigs in what could be called underground performances, despite the imminently derivative and popish sound of the actual music played. It has to start somewhere, one supposes, and it may be worth checking out just to witness the scene of such fledgling attempts.

Traditional Vietnamese music (both folk varieties and former royal court forms) is making a notable comeback as well. A host of tourist-oriented and local establishments now feature regular performances. Looked down up during the hardline communist times as a counter-revolutionary remnant of a past feudal period, it was in danger of being completely lost. As the last skilled practitioners slowly died in relative anonymity, sentiments against it gradually thawed, and it’s revival began at what may have been a last possible moment. While some of the spots consistently featuring it may seem a bit touristy, world music aficionados will want to endure them none the less.

An under appreciated gem of the city is the Hanoi Opera House. Performances, both classic and contemporary, domestic and foreign, can be enjoyed here for a fraction of the cost one would expect to pay in comparable facilities around the world. “Comparable facilities”, however, obscures the uniqueness of attending something in this French-built landmark of Vietnam’s colonial past. Whether or not you’d consider yourself a frequent attendee of such affairs elsewhere, it’s worth checking out the schedule on a regular basis while in Hanoi. It makes for a memorable night.

International cultural arts are also gaining a steady foothold in Hanoi. Much of this is due to the ministry of culture and it’s cooperation with embassies and numerous cultural centers of foreign origin who actively promote their country’s presence in the city. France, Germany, England, Korea, and many more are all present and bringing their unique perspectives into play locally.

Combine all of these with the better known cultural attractions (such as the water puppet theater or the Temple of Literature) and any Hanoian has options to satisfy an eclectic artistic appetite.

Written by alpha

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