1906-2016 Khmer Royal Ballet: A Century of History

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts under the direction of Her Royal Highness Norodom Buppha Devi

1. The Reign of H.M. King Sisowath (1840-1927)
Between 1906-1950, the Khmer Royal Ballet was an all-female tradition in which dancers performed all roles, including those of demons and monkeys. Even the pinn peat orchestra utilised only female singers.
A few noticeable characteristics of the period included wide arm-posture and -gesture, rigorous movement, and white facial make-up.
To illustrate the history and practice of Khmer Royal Ballet at that time, this evening, our dancers, under the direction of Her Royal Highness Norodom Buppha Devi, present the "Prayer Dance [Robam Boung Soung]" which was performed during the Royal Prayer Ceremony in the Palace, and "Preah Chinavung" dance drama in which the monkey role is here performed by a girl. At the time, the pinn peat choir utilised only the female singers.

2. The Reign of Her Majesty Queen Sisowath Kossama Nearyrath Serey Vaddhana (1904-1975)
In 1950, Her Majesty Queen Sisowath Kossama Nearyrath Serey Vaddhana mounted and adapted the story of Ramayana [Reamker] for her Royal Ballet. She preferred, then assigned a male dancer to play the role of Hanuman. This male dancer belonged to the masked theater troupe from Vatt Svay Andaet which was brought to perform at the Royal Birth Anniversary and Annual Exhibition at the Royal Palace.
Characteristics of the period were subject to gradual evolvement and further innovation and refinement in the arm-posture and -gesture, more graceful movement, and colored facial make-ups. For our program this evening, the artists of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts present the Royal Ballet performing "The Forest Exile of Rama" or "The Abduction of Sita", an episode of the Reamker.

3. Masked Theater [Lakhon Khol]
Historically speaking, Khmer masked theater is the contemporary of Khmer Royal Ballet. Then, it performed only the sole story of Reamker. The differences between the two lie in the gender-oriented tradition – the Royal Ballet is an all-female form, whereas the masked theater is an all-male form. The former is an inner-court tradition, whereas the latter is an outer-court tradition. Teachers who were brought from Vatt Svay Andaet troupe to teach the monkey role at the Royal Palace during those times included master Chap, among others.
Ever since, the tradition of male dancers, performing the role of monkey, has been adopted and practiced till this day.
Following the establishment of the RUFA (Royal University of the Fine Arts) in 1965, Professor Chheng Phom sent his students in 1968, including Mr. Pok Sarann, Mr. Sdoeung Chamroeun, Mr. Lim Sreng, and Mr. Meas Vanroeun to study the art of masked theater with teachers at Vatt Svay Andaet.
In the olden days, the Khmer masked theater did not utilise the modern stage props, such as, riser or chair, but simply the traditional props called "Rav" as seen in this evening's performance.
An important point to be made here is the combination of narration style and monkey movements of Vatt Svay Andaet and those of Battambang province.
This evening, our artists present to you, the episode fo "Construction of the Causeway to Lanka" of the Reamker.

4. The Reign of H.M. King Norodom Sihanouk
In 1964, during the reign of H.M. King Norodom Sihanouk, Her Majesty Queen Sisowath Kossama Nearyrath Serey Vaddhana created the Apsara and Tep Monorum dances to be show-cased in France. Her Royal Highnedd Princess Norodom Buppha Devi directed and performed the dances herself.
We have seen that the dances have been fervently practised, preserved, evolved, and ameliorated to their perfection, and have been recognised and enlisted on the list of the UNESCO World Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003.
The artist have therir honor to, now, present to you, the "Apsara" and "Tep Monorum" dances.

[from the presentation notes of the Master of Ceremonies Mr. Sam-Ang Sam. 27 October 2016
Text: HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi and Sam-Ang Sam]