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Khmer Civilization and Tradition (in English)Posted: 2009-10-01 23:22:44   Replies: 0
Cambodia Performing Arts (3)

Folkloric music and dance
The folkloric tradition in Cambodia has also given rise to a number of different performance genres which draw heavily on the court traditions with which they have interacted over the centuries, using common source material such as the Ramayana, the Javanese panji cycle, jataka stories and local mythology. Unfortunately many of these genres, such as the folk theatres lakhaon pramochtei and lakhaon boeuk bot, have now virtually disappeared.
Several current overseas-funded initiatives are attempting to identify funds to revive some of these lost forms while the few living masters or at least students of those masters are still with us.
Each region also has its own unique folk dance traditions, invariably linked to local ceremonies and special days. As in many other parts of Asia, most of the 'Khmer folkloric dances' (robam prapeyney) currently performed by the National Theatre Company are actually of fairly recent origin. A number of these were choreographed at the Royal University of Fine Arts in the 1960s, whilst others were devised during the same period by Prince Norodom Sihanouk himself for presentation to tourists. However, many of these folkloric dances are nonetheless based on older forms created to celebrate key periods of the year such as harvest or new year, times of group games when young men are officially allowed to flirt with the opposite sex.
As in neighbouring Thailand and Laos, popular dances (robam pracheaprey) spread rapidly throughout the country during the early years of the 20th century. The best-known popular dances are the ubiquitous group circle dance known as ram vong and a related style known as ram kbach.

Folkloric theatre
At the turn of the 20th century there began to emerge popular South East Asian drama forms with an emphasis on plot and dialogue, performed in permanent theatres for a ticket-buying audience. An important catalyst for this development was the appearance of itinerant bangsawan touring theatre troupes from Malaysia, presenting a new style of theatre in which entertainment was the primary aim.
The folkloric theatre genre lakhaon yike is believed to have developed under the influence of touring bangsawan companies, but it also parallels Thai likay and Malay jikey in its mixture of classical and modern choreography and costuming and as such is thought to have the same basic origins.
Recounting ancient tales of the Khmer kings, yike performers alternate between highly dramatic modes of speaking and singing, to the accompaniment of an ensemble made up of traditional Khmer instruments.
Another important folkloric theatre style of this period is lakhaon bassac, which originated with the itinerant river-borne theatre groups of Cambodia and southern Việt Nam in the early years of the 20th century travelling up and down the Bassac-Hậu Giang River in large sailing boats, these troupes would pull in to give performances at major centres of population.
Strongly reminiscent of Chinese opera, the genre incorporates numerous influences, including that of the Vietnamese classical theatre tuồng (there were groups in southern Việt Nam from 1908 to 1939), Khmer theatre and even Hindi and western movies. It is presented to the accompaniment of popular music performed on both traditional and modern instruments.
The folk opera lakhaon apei, often described as a mixture of yike and classical dance, was also devised in the early years of the present century, but had more or less vanished from Cambodia by the 1940s. The version currently performed by the National Theatre Company in Phnom Penh is believed to have been devised during the post-colonial era and is a very modern form which, unlike most types of Cambodian performance, usually involves some kind of contemporary dress and modern-style music.
Traditional versions of both lakhaon bassac and lakhaon apei have been researched and are occasionally performed by the Kompong Cham Provincial Performing Troupe.
A loosely-scripted folkloric dance-drama known as lakhaon mahaori had also appeared by the 20th century. This genre draws its melodies from the ancient ceremonial music known as phlaeng mahaori; as noted earlier, the mahaori orchestra which accompanies the action is dominated by stringed instruments, specifically the tro and the three-stringed zither of Mon origins known as the takhe (literally crocodile, a reference to its distinctive shape).

As evidenced by the bas-reliefs of the Khmer temples, circus is one of Cambodias most ancient performing arts genres. Acrobats, jugglers and other circus acts were traditionally an important feature of both courtly and itinerant Khmer theatre troupes and today the circus remains one of the country's favourite forms of entertainment.
As in neighbouring Việt Nam and Laos, close links with the former Soviet Bloc and the Peoples Republic of China have helped to enhance technical skills in the genre, raising the profile of the circus arts in Cambodia. However, the continued presence of indigenous elements of dance and music ensure its uniqueness as an authentic Cambodian discipline.
In 2003 a private American donor commissioned the Royal University of Fine Arts to create a full-length circus performance, incorporating pure Cambodian techniques based on research of the bas-reliefs.
This project helped to revive traditional Khmer circus and contribute to its ongoing survival, as the piece is now an important part of RUFAs current repertory and will be performed as often as possible.

Ethnic minority music and dance
Each of the ethnic minority groups residing within Cambodian borders has its own unique music and dance traditions, which function together with the production of art objects to propitiate the spirits and celebrate the many social milestones in the lives of members of the community.
While important differences exist in the music of the ethnic minority communities, all of them share a common instrumentarium, crafted with great ingenuity from natural materials such as stone, wood, gourd, bamboo, animal horn and reed to accompany a wide range of solo and group songs and dances. In common with their cousins in southern Laos and the central highlands of Việt Nam, the Steang of Kratie Province and several other ethnicities also utilise bronze drums as an integral part of their ritual ceremonies.

Reference: Cambodia Cultural Profile

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