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Khmer Civilization and Tradition (in English)Posted: 2009-10-01 23:19:01   Replies: 0
Cambodia Performing Arts

After the war in 1979, radio announcements were made in an attempt to locate surviving performers around the country with the goal of identifying which traditional performance genres might still be practised. Some nine disciplines were eventually resurrected, and since that time the Cambodian government, in conjunction with international agencies such as UNESCO, has made strenuous efforts to widen the practitioner skills base of these ancient art forms.
While emphasis continues to be placed on traditional performing arts genres, spoken drama maintains a loyal following in Cambodia, and international forms such as chamber and orchestral music and contemporary dance are slowly beginning to develop.

Traditional Cambodian performing arts
Public attention and interest in the cultural development needs of Cambodia have inevitably focused on the plight of the countrys physical cultural heritage, and specifically upon ongoing efforts, sponsored by international agencies such as UNESCO, to safeguard the magnificent Angkor temples in the north west of the country.
Comparatively less attention has been given to the problems facing the countrys non-physical heritage, particularly those associated with the traditional performing arts.
Recent research has identified many traditional Khmer performing arts genres, including ritual performance, folk music and dance and more than 20 forms of theatre, best known of which are the ancient classical dances associated with the royal court. Not surprisingly, since the techniques of these genres were traditionally handed down by word of mouth, artists had rarely focused on documenting their various forms; the masters of one generation simply taught the next. However, the great majority of Cambodias artists perished under the Pol Pot regime, and with them went over half of the performance disciplines. After the war in 1979, radio announcements were made in an attempt to locate surviving performers around the country, with the goal of identifying which forms might still be practised. Some nine disciplines were eventually resurrected and since that time the Cambodian government, in conjunction with international agencies such as UNESCO, has made strenuous efforts to widen the practitioner skills base of these ancient art forms.

Proto-theatrical activity
The oldest extant Cambodian performance genres are those which, in accordance with the general South East Asian pattern, function for entertainment, social integration and spirit propitiation in rural society. These include the singing of verse epics and poetry, as well as trance dances and ceremonies connected with ancestor worship and animist beliefs.
Ritual origins may be discerned in the port ruong or ruong tree spirit-worshipping dance of Koh Kong Province, the nang meo rain dance of Siem Reap, and the trott or stag dance of Siem Reap and Battambang. In the latter, dancers impersonating deer and hunters travel with their musical accompaniment from house to house, dancing and collecting payment in order to bring prosperity for the new year.
Cambodia supports numerous other important proto-theatrical styles. Trance-dances are still performed at a few rural shrines in the north of the country and sung-storytelling is preserved in the form of chapei, named after the lute which accompanies it.
More widely found today is the call-and-response folk chant known as lakhaon ayai, which takes the form of a verbal battle of the sexes largely improvised, although it is based on a written text performed along with simple dance movements to the accompaniment of the khoeum (zither) or the tro (two-stringed fiddle). In many ways lakhaon ayai is not dissimilar to certain types of lam in neighbouring Laos. Both chapei and lakhaon ayai traditionally interpreted ancient legends, but today they frequently draw their subject matter from topical events and in this way are often utilised by politicians wishing to spread their message.
As elsewhere in the region, age-old proto-theatrical activities may well have provided a basis for later classical styles developed under external influences during the first millennium CE.

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