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Water-puppet show is wet and wonderful

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SAIGON WATER PUPPET THEATER OF HO CHI MINH CITY, presented by the Sundance Children's Theatre. Performances at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays, through Aug. 12. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for children 11 and under. For reservations, call the Sundance box office at 225-4100. Tickets can also be reserved at all Smith's Tix outlets (handling fees apply) or by calling 1-800-888-TIXX or 801-223-4110. Running time: about one hour.

Water puppetry is not a new concept.

Well, at least not in Vietnam, the home of water puppetry, where children have enjoyed this form of entertainment for nearly 1,000 years. This tradition is found only in Vietnam, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that the Saigon Water Puppet Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City is a seasoned and synchronized team of puppeteers and musicians.

That's right. While water provides the intrigue to this form of puppetry, it is the sounds of traditional ancient Vietnamese music and instruments that keep the suspense alive.

A troupe of five very talented musicians sets the scene and tempo for this one-hour production. The audience is also a part of the show. From shouting encouragement to the puppets, to ducking splashing fishes, the audience has no time to be lulled away by the rippling sounds of water.

The staging itself is a masterpiece. The backdrop is a brightly colored Vietnamese temple. At its base is a stage-size pond about 2 to 3 feet deep. It is in this pool one can see fire-breathing dragons, dancing children and farmers working in the rice paddies. Audience seating is set high enough above the stage for a perfect view of the entire pool from just about every vantage point. Note, it pays to come early.

Of the 12 vignettes presented, the ones that seemed to intrigue the audience the most were the "Dragon Dance," "Phoenix Dance," "Fishing" and "A Dance of the Immortals." The "Dance of the Immortals" involves eight puppets in a synchronized swimming and dancing routine that rivals some of our Olympic teams. They were beautiful and absolutely precise. Kudos to the puppeteers, who by the way, are never seen until curtain call.

Every aspect of this production enlightens the audience on the sights and sounds of Vietnam. While the show itself is narrated in Vietnamese, there is no question as to the mood and story of each vignette. However, the audience does receive preshow instructions.

This water show is artistic, fun and fast-paced. The children of the audience (up to age 90) all seemed to enjoy the stories. Those sitting in the front rows, be warned. Not only do the dragons spew fire, they spit water right at you, too. It may be the best spot in the house considering the extreme heat we have been experiencing. While the audience is shaded, it is still warm on the mountain and those attending should not only dress appropriately, but bring water bottles. A small concession stand is available.

E-mail: pugmire@desnews.com