Festival Of Khmer Classical Arts
By: Moul Jetr. ( Jul - Aug, 2001 Volume 1 No.3 )

Exquisite costumes and haunting music are the hallmarks of the ancient art of Khmer dance. Each intricate movement is the product of hundreds of years of evolution. The effect is unforgettable and audiences now have the opportunity to experience a performance of this and five related Khmer art forms at the Royal University of Fine Arts during July for less than US$1. Six types of traditional and classical art performances await patrons of the arts each Saturday and Sunday from 6 pm at the Theater Hall of the Royal University of Fine Arts, on Street 70, next to the Old Stadium or just west of the Cambodia-Japan Friendship Bridge roundabout.
A front-seat ticket costs just 3000 riel and a back row seat is 2000 riel (or about 50 cents). They are available at the door of the 500-seat Theater Hall or at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) office just northeast of the Royal Palace. The festival is aimed at both rehabilitating and promoting Cambodia's cultural heritage in its highest form and encouraging the arts. The performances will give the artistes financial income and a rare chance to perform in front of an audience. The eight-week traditional and classical art festival beginning from early June is split between the National Theatre and the Royal University of Fine Arts. About 50 actors and musicians from the National Theatre were featured every weekend throughout June and those of the Royal University are taking over for the July weekends. A synopsis of each story performed would be available at the door of the Theater Hall, according to Mr Suon Bunrith of UNESCO. He said the performances were a joint production between the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and UNESCO, with the help of sponsorship from Mobitel. On July 1, the troupe of the Arts Department presents its final performance when the classical dance Kray Thong is performed. The Royal University of Fine Arts takes over on the weekend of July 7 and 8, performing the Bassac Theater drama Saing Sel-chey. The following weekend, July 14 and 15, features the Khmer Circus and Folklore Dance. On July 21 and 22, the Yike tragic drama entitled Neang Padacha will be presented. The final weekend, July 28 and 29, provides patrons with a chance to enjoy a mixed program of classical dance and L'khoan Khoal.
The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts organized similar events at Chakdomouk Conference Hall in August 1999 with support and assistance of UNESCO, the French Cultural Center and Shell Company and in October 2000, a similar festival was staged in Takeo Province by the Ministry, in cooperation with UNESCO and the Kasumisou Foundation. Although a sponsor was found for the current eight-weekend festival, any subsequent performances still need support from new sponsors. For more information about the performance sponsorship package, call UNESCO on 723 054, 426 726 or 725 071.

BACKGROUND OF THEATER FORMS Classical Dance Khmer Classical Dance is one of the oldest Cambodian performance arts and evolved in the Pre-Angkorian Period. This is the most luxuriant form of classical dance, featuring the most ornate costumes. Khmer Classical Dance is regarded as a sacred dance of Khmer ancestors. The traditional Pinpeat orchestra and the accompanying troupe of singers play a major role in directing the dancers. This form of dance was once strictly for female dancers but since the latter part 20th century, men have been allowed to dance, although only in two roles_ those of the monkey and of the holy teacher.

L'khoan Bassac L'khoan Bassac (Bassac Theater) is a traditional Khmer form of theater that uses song and is among the most popular of all Cambodian theater forms. L'khoan Bassac originates from L'khoan Troeung Klok, a style of theater founded by a man named Master Sue in the Bassac district of Kampuchea Krom. In 1930s, Mr. Cha Kruon and his L'khoan Troeung Klok troupe toured Phnom Penh and several Cambodian provinces. The form was an instant hit. Bassac Theatre is strongly influenced by Hy (Chinese Opera) and Kai Loeung (Vietnamese theater), which is evident not only in its scenic, costume and makeup elements, but also in the extremely physical, almost acrobatic acting techniques. In the 1960s, L'khoan Bassac was strongly promoted by well-known actors Mr. Saing Sarun and Ms. Chek Mach. This was a glorious period for L'khoan Bassac. In 1982, following the dark period of the Pol Pot regime when many artistes perished, L'khoan Bassac was revived together with other classic Cambodian entertainment arts and quickly spread throughout the country once again. However, the form is still considered threatened.


Khmer Traditional Circus

Khmer acrobats, jugglers and other circus performers are depicted in bas-relief on the walls of Angkor, showing circus that has had a place in Cambodia's culture for centuries. These carvings tell us that early Cambodian circus performers used scenes from everyday life _ climbing palm trees, throwing building materials from man to man when building houses, walking on tight ropes from tree to tree as they collected sugar palm juice _ as premises for their juggling, balancing and clown acts.



L'khaon Khoal

Modern Khmer circus was almost extinct before 1980 and the revived version has been influenced by the circus traditions of Vietnam and Russia. However its music and dance steps remain purely Khmer, and the tricks and acrobatics which it incorporates maintain a strongly Khmer flavor in their execution. An exuberant art, the feats of these performers dazzle the audience.



L'khoan Yike

L'khoan Yike (Yike Theater) is an extremely popular and ancient form of Cambodian musical theater. Today, Yike is performed throughout the country and is most popular in Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, Pursat, Kampong Chhnang, Svay Rieng and Kampot.
At first, Yike was often used as a post-performance event in the palace following classical ballet theater, but soon became so popular that it began being performed in its own rite. Research has revealed that Yike was originally of Champa origin and evolved into its modern form between the third and sixth centuries. Prior to that it had been practiced as a religious ceremony of fertility by farmers. The earlier forms of this art incorporated mostly the drum as musical accompaniment. Over the years, the form changed, incorporating various costumes and musical instruments, adapting itself to new trends in poetry, narration and singing. Yike features highly stylized acting and is used as a vehicle to recount famous legends.



Folklore Dance

This is a highly popular form of dance, which has always been highly accessible and an art of the common people. Folklore dance often embraces mythical stories but mostly represents everyday life. There are dances that represent the rice harvest, the beginning and ending of the rainy season, fishing and other aspects of rural life. Every province has its own indigenous dance and there is also a specific folklore dance to accompany each major Khmer holiday.


L'khaon Khoal

As most of the dancers in classical Khmer dance are traditionally women, L'khoan Khoal or Khoal Theater was created during the Angkor period as a form of masked classical dance which is performed strictly by men. The dance form itself is similar to Classical Dance. The stories are always taken from the Reamker (the Khmer version of the Buddhist Ramayana Epic). Performances are accompanied musically by the Pin Peat ensemble.