‘Royal Ballet of Cambodia’
07 March – 20 April 2019
National Museum of Cambodia
The young Royal Ballet ballerinas start their training very young at 9 or 10 years old at the Secondary School of Fine Arts. After having passed very challenging and difficult exams, the dancers join the Royal University of Fine Arts. This entrance exam is based on the ballerinas’ flexibility, delicacy, style, gestures, but also on their morphology and on certain beauty aspects which will influence on which character of the Ballet they will dance.
Preparation of the dancers
Traditionally, women would dance both female and male characters. Since the reign of Queen Kossamak, men can now perform the role of Nearong (male character) and even Neang (female character). Costumes are cut fit to the body and are tightly and closely sewed on the dancer a few hours before the performance. Each folding of the sampot charabab is carefully and meticulously done by the dance teachers or the costume designers.
During the Royal Ballet preparation, a makeup specialist meticulously applies a thick and bright white powder on the dancers’ faces. This special makeup was used more than a century ago, and has been reintroduced by Princess Buppha Devi for the Robam Boung Soung dance. At that time, a white face was a symbol of beauty and elegance. The dancers’ faces reminds them of the purity of the moon and strengthen their divine character.
There are four main characters categories in the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. Neang (female characters) wear a crown, a sampot tied to the waist by a golden belt, and a shawl embellished with delicate embroideries. Nearong (male characters) have a crown, a sampot tied differently than the women’s and a shoulder pad shirt. Yeak (demons or giants) wear a mask as well as Sva (monkeys), who also wear a shirt without shoulder pads and a small tail made of fabric.
There are approximately 1000 known gestures in the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, however only 300 are taught and performed. The dancers express their feelings through these dances and mime stories sang by a choir on a music played by the Pin Peat orchestra. Special attention is given to the gestures’ grace and sensitivity and are performed in a very precise and codified way according to ancestral rules. However, each and every dancer has her own style and expresses in a very special and unique way the character which she embodies.
The Pin Peat Orchestra
Pin Peat is a music ensemble that accompanied court dance, male mask dance theater, shadow puppet, and religious ceremonies.
Princess Norodom Buppha Devi
Princess Norodom Buppha Devi is the elder daughter of the deceased King Sihanouk. Raised by her grand-mother, Queen Kossomak, the patroness of the royal dance troupe, she had been learning court dance since her young age. Her grandmother, chose her to become a dancer early in her life. At the age of 15, she became the premiere dancer of the Royal Ballet. She was promoted lead dancer in the 1960s. Since her return to Cambodia in 1991, she has been looking after the destiny of the Royal Ballet troupe. She was appointed Minister of Culture and Fine Arts from 1999-2003. During her mandate, she succeeded to have the royal ballet inscribed as Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (UNESCO). In the last decade, she has been working closely with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to rejuvenate former dance-dramas, such as Preach Chinavong, Enao Bossaba, Shadows and Lights, Reamker (Ramayana), Apsara Mera, and lastly Metamorphoses.