The Girl Behind the Giant Mask

Roath Sophanna / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Ms. Chanlyka pictured following her performance.

At the age of 21, Leav Chanlyka, also known as Kakou, has achieved many remarkable successes throughout her Khmer classical dancing career, particularly in her huge role as Giant [Yeak], one of the leading characters in the classical production, Khmer Ramayana (Ream Ke). 

With no tradition of the art in her family, Ms. Chanlyka is the only child who committed herself to Khmer classical dancing and she has no regrets about her decision. She is now in her fourth year studying a Bachelor’s degree in Choreography at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA).

Her Passion Led to Success

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Ms. Chanlyka’s goal for herself was to show her pride of Khmer Traditional Dancing by performing in foreign countries and to raise awareness of Khmer culture throughout the world. 

In her first year at RUFA, she was given the opportunity to perform a male role in Robam Tep Monorom, one of the most beautiful Cambodian classical dances, depicting matching pairs of gods and goddesses, throughout several countries in Europe, under the special training of Princess Norodom Buppha Devi. 

Ms. Chanlyka says she always keeps sight of where she wants to go and works toward her objectives every day. 

In 2014, she was selected by her school, along with some other students from different departments in RUFA, to participate in a cultural exchange with Japan under the JENESYS program. Once again she brought fame to Cambodia by showcasing Khmer classical dance to Japanese people through her wonderful performances. 

In the same year, she trained hard both mentally and physically, in preparation to perform another big event. This involved carrying out the role of Giant in the performance of Ream Ke, in several EU countries. As the youngest girl in the group – and because this role is acknowledged to be a difficult one, she felt that she had to put all her heart and soul into it. 

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“It could be said that the Giant role in Ream Ke is a huge role among the Khmer classical dances and it is hard to choose the right person to fit the role since it requires a performer to have good dancing moves, gifted body, and good emotion,” she said. “As it was my first time, I did not want to disappoint anyone so I tried my best practicing even though my legs were hurting sometimes.”  

Because of her outstanding performances, she has achieved her goal of performing Khmer traditional dancing in many foreign countries such as Japan, Austria, Monaco, France, Portugal, Italy, Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, and Bahrain in the Middle East. 

One month before her performance in Paris, she was given another precious opportunity to perform her debut role in Ream Ke at the birthday celebrations for King Norodom Sihamoni at the Chaktomok Theatre. 

With cheerful eyes, she recounted her feelings at the time. “I had never thought of being able to perform in front of the king and many other high ranking officials in that special moment as a leading role. I don’t know how to describe that feeling, it was just phenomenal that I was able to satisfy myself and make my Mum proud of me.” 

With those priceless experiences behind her, she was even more motivated to embrace the Khmer classical dancing pathway. “For some cases, I would go to perform whatever role, free of charge because I am so passionate in presenting what I have, as well as the awesomeness of Khmer culture to the outside world.” 

She even spent her own funds on a visa just to bring Khmer classical dance to feature in Korea with some of her friends. She advises that she was quite satisfied with the results.  

Behind the Giant Mask

As a girl performing the Giant role, Ms. Chanlyka says the main challenge she faced during her performances was that she had to be physically strong in order to deal with those heavy costumes. 

The Giant mask restricts normal breathing, so she had to breathe through her mouth. In addition, the heavy costume jewelry even makes it difficult to lift up her hands and move other parts of her body.  

Quite apart from the heavy costumes, the young dancer says she needs to be in good health and good physical condition. In order to cope with dance moves for the Giant role, which requires jumping and spinning, she had to make sure she maintains a strong body and enough energy to last throughout the whole performance. 

After each performance, she ends up exhausted and sometimes has almost fainted. “As it consists of many fighting scenes, I often find myself almost out of breath,” she reveals.

Looking to the future, Ms. Chanlyka aspires to be a professional choreographer and showcase Khmer classical dance all around the world.

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