The elderly members of the Four Sacred Animals Dance troupe in Hanoi’s Duc Khe hamlet entertain their audience with an impressive performance. Their dances are meticulously choreographed with the moves of the four sacred animals.
In a large common ground, villagers watch a 35-meter-long dragon fashioned from red cloth moving around under the control of the dance troupe members.
Next to the dragon, a unicorn figure shakes its head, blinking its big eyes while moving around a club as if performing martial arts. A tortoise figure moves slowly, bobbing its head, while a phoenix spreads its beautiful feathers in movements as if flying to the rhythm of the processional music.
Historian Le Van Lan said, "The 4 sacred animals were mythologized by the Vietnamese. The dragon represents authority, the royal court, the King, the rain and the wind. The unicorn symbolizes power, while the turtle is supposed to bring prosperity for every family. The phoenix stands for nobility and sometimes is compared to the Queen for its beauty.
Since the very old days, these four sacred animals’ shapes and movements have been featured in the Vietnamese people’s dance, performed at festivals as a way to express gratitude to the Gods, and pray for bumper crops and a new year full of peace and prosperity.
The musicians who accompany the dancers play a very important part in the show, according to Historian Le Van Lan.
"All the dancers and musicians wear make-up and move the figures of the four sacred animals to make them appear to be dancing. The lunar New Year festival is a prime occasion to perform this dance to pray for all the best in the new year", said Lan.
The Four Sacred Animals Dance comprises a separate dance for each animal and a dance for all four animals. Each dance has its own meaning. For example, at the opening ceremony of the Huong Pagoda’s annual festival in Hanoi’s My Duc district, this dance has the special meaning to tame these animals, particularly the fierce dragon and unicorn, using Buddhism.
Pham Van Hung of Huong Son commune has been performing this dance for 30 years.
"The four sacred animals all show their respect to the Buddha as they enter any pagoda or temple. At dances performed in our commune, the unicorn dance must involve a person excellent in martial arts to perform the dance with the club to control the unicorn", Hung told VOV.
The Four Sacred Animals Dance and its beautiful images and meanings has become an integral part of the Vietnamese people’s spiritual life and every New Year celebration.