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'Sovannahong' Marks Classic Dance Revival

"Sovannahong," the premier of a newly revived work of Cambodian classical dance, will be performed by artists of the Secondary School of Fine Arts on Friday at Chaktomuk Conference Hall.

The show was choreographed by Princess Norodom Bopha Devi and an elderly master of arts team, which is coming back to the stage after half a century.

"The Rockefeller/ACC Mentorship Program had provided funds through Amrita to work with Royal University of Fine Arts, a project that focuses on research, documentation and the transfer of knowledge and experience from elder artists to younger teachers," said Suon Bun Rith, Cultural Coordinator of Amrita Performing Arts.

Proeung Chheang, vice rector of Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh and Dean of Choreographic Arts, said that this was the first time they had performed the whole story of "Sovannahong" in dance dramas.

"Four types of roles exist in the 'Sovannahong's' story: Neay Rong (men), Neang (maidens), Yeak (ogres), and the Sva (monkeys)," Proeung Chheang said.

Soth Somaly, a dance teacher at the University of Fine Arts, is from an artist family; her grandmother and her mother were dancers. Born in 1962, she began to learn dancing at age five. She has managed artists performing in Europe, Asia and the United States and is a playwright of dance drama. She wrote the lyrics of each song in the play.

Princess Bopha Devi was a major member of the Royal Ballet. She was part of a mere handful of teachers who survived after the war to help rebuild the Royal Cambodian Ballet. In the 1960s Princess Bopha Devi was also part of the court dance troupe. She became the prima bellerina. One of her well known roles was performing as Apsara Mera in the Apsara dance.

"My grandmother, former Queen Sisowath Kassamak Neary Rath, made [dance] an important part of the royal Khmer court. Court dance was revived again and was at its peak under the reign of my father, Norodom Sihanouk," Princess Bopha Devi told VOA Khmer.

In the 1970s with the overthrow of the royal monarchy, Khmer court dance began to decline. The worst was to come during the Khmer communist revolution.

"The elder teacher and I tried to find what documents were available to keep the art form alive and revived the great loss with about a third of the dance repertoires, the steps, gestures, movements, narratives, survived intact," she said.

The music used for Khmer classical dance is played by a pinpeat orchestra. While the pinpeat orchestra is not playing, a chorus of several singers will sing out the lyrics, here written by Soth Somaly, which describe the story of the Sovannahong's dance.

Khmer classical dance uses a particular piece of music for a certain event, such as when a dancer enters a scene, performing certain actions, such as flying, or walking, and when leaving the stage.