Sexually charged buffaloes, high spirited drinking and fiery gods descending from heaven! What more could you ask for in this dramatic, fantastical world of shadow puppetry?
Puppets are a blend of many art forms- music, choreography, poetry, costume and craft, all illuminated and brought to life with the flickering flame. The stories can be vulgar folk tales or sublime meditations on great myths. They can be epic, or jocular.
The master of Bambu Puppets is the tenacious and warm-hearted SORN Soran. Soran's family lives under the shadows of the great pre-classical temple of the Bakong, 13 kilometres east of Siem Reap. His dad is a fisherman on the Tonle Sap, his mum makes the best smoked fish in the village.
As a teenager Soran saw his family struggle. He moved in with a local craftsman, a renowned puppeteer who had a small school and workshop for children of the community.
Daily life was school in the morning, then learning of the craft skills of puppet making in the afternoon. Tanning the hides, making the metal tools, drawing the characters onto the hide with chalk, then the repetitive tapping with the metal punches by a wooden mallet to punch out the characters, colouring in and finally affixing bamboo splints to the moveable limbs.
Soran learnt fast. Like all puppet theatre across Southeast Asia, he is influenced by the great Hindu epic, the Ramayana, and traditional Cambodian folk tales. Earlier this year he approached Bambu Stage for a home to set up a company.
Twice the company has been to Battambang under the support of Phare Ponleu Selpak arts school (of Cambodian Circus fame) to make traditional and experimental new work, contemporary dance and learn new theatre skills.
Young, spirited and sometime a little crazy, the twelve members of the Bambu Puppet troupe have been polishing their skills over the monsoon season.
The dry season heralds their launch at Bambu Stage at an informal outdoor space great for groups and families. The performance is preceded by a short introduction to puppet making and the place of Cambodia in the diversity of puppetry in the Asian World.
Their shows are a medley of great diversity, and new works are constantly made and old works updated in this rolling scroll of fiery entertainment.
The troupe are making late afternoon workshops where youngsters can learn to make a puppet and participate in a presentation as the sun goes down for their families. Light the fire, let the show begin!
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