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Festival Hopes To Promote Dramatic Heritage

The Ministry of Culture has organized a large drama festival for the first time. The National Lakhaon Festival is running Feb. 18 through Feb. 28, and Ieng Sithul, a music professor at the University of Fine Arts, says the main purpose is to pit rival forms of Cambodian theater against each other.

“Our purpose is to revive Cambodian’s performing arts heritage in its highest form and to encourage the artists to create more stage performances for the sake of sustainability,” said Ieng Sithul, as a guest on “Hello VOA” Monday. “Due to the influence of modern cultures these forms of Cambodian theatre are on the brink of collapse.”

Traditional Cambodian performance is wide and varied, consisting of more than 20 different forms, said Ieng Sithul, who also works for Cambodian Living Arts. Their histories are known from depictions on the temple walls of Angkor Wat and others, he said, and they have passed on from generation to generation.

Khaol drama is among the oldest and most sacred and demonstrates social and religious links between dramatic art forms and Cambodia’s Theravada Buddhism.

Pleng Kar is performed in accompaniment of traditional wedding music and is believed to have appeared as early as the 1st Century, in ceremonies of royalty.

Yike was a popular form of musical theater that appeared in the late 8th Century, during the reign of King Jayavarman II.

Mahori is newer. This dramatic form emerged in the post-Angkorian period, with popular forms of music and themes apart from older forms.

One of the oldest is Sbeak Thom, shadow puppetry, used exclusively to perform epics of the Reamker, or Ramayana.

And there are others. Like Sbeak Por, created between 1859 and 1904.

Or Bassac, strongly influenced by Chinese and Vietnamese opera, from the former Bassac district in the Mekong Delta, an area once known as Kampuchea Krom, or Lower Cambodia. Bassac appeared at the beginning of the 20th Century and showcases stories from Buddha’s life.