The performing arts piece “Pin Panhchak Por” (Five Colours of Pin), brought by Cambodian Living Arts, which was recently performed at the National Museum, is a new work by composer Hang Rithyravuth.
Based on his research at the Bayon Temple near Angkor Wat, the work includes both contemporary and classical elements, and uses colour and music to symbolically refer to five basic concepts.
According to Som Sathya, dean of choreographic arts at the Royal University of Fine Arts and the assistant composer of the piece, Pin Panhchak Por is a work for 20 performers. One interesting feature of the production is that the costumes, crowns, and pin (classical Khmer instruments) featured are all depicted in sculptures visible at the Angkor Wat complex.
Some elements of the story were adapted from Ko Samut Teuk Dos, (The Churning of the Ocean of Milk), an ancient Khmer legend with origins in Hindu mythology.
“The main idea of the story is that without unity, a people cannot move forward,” Ms Sathya said. “In this story, the Apsara [mythological celestial nymphs] tell us that if we fight one another, we all lose. The dances, sounds, and clothing colours are broken down into five types.”
Mr Rithyravuth, dean of music at Royal University of Fine Arts and the main composer of the work, said that as he was conducting research at Bayon Temple he came across sculptures showing Apsara playing the kse diev, a traditional one-stringed instrument, and dancing while wearing a crown.
The sculptures were located on the eastern side of the Bayon. Other sculptures depict the events of Ko Samut Teuk Dos, and show artists playing pin and engaging in the martial art labok kator Khmer.
“Basically, this is a love story. Actually, I depict the Apsara as a beautiful girl loved by two men with contrasting personalities [an element borrowed from ‘Ko Samut Teuk Dos’]. “The men fight for the girl’s affections, but during the fight they destroy her garden, which leaves her frightened”.
“So the Apsara plays on the pin as a way of calling for help. Five people dressed in clothing of five different colours answer her call,” he said.
Some aspects of the story have a more contemporary inspiration, such as a scene in which a man brings flowers to a woman he loves. This is not a Khmer tradition, and is a reference to Valentine’s Day, which has become popular among young Cambodians.
The five colours, he said, refer to several things: the colours worn by different sporting teams, to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and to the five major continents, for example.
Mr Rithyravuth said the message he wanted audiences to take from the story was the importance of strengthening one’s own capabilities and not being overly reliant on others.
In the story, the Apasara was happy before the two men fought over her and destroyed her garden. Weakened by the events, she is forced to call on others for help.
Kem Chanthou, a singer who participated in the performance, said she was really happy to take part in a story with both classical and contemporary elements.
She added that it was fascinating to see all the dresses inspired by the Angkorian sculptures.
“We only had a week to rehearse, but I think that was hardest on the dancers, because the work features some new forms of dancing. My part was not quiet so difficult to get down in such a short period,” Ms Chanthou said.
Personally, she believed the most significant thing about the work was that it highlighted the pin classical Khmer instruments, which are in danger of disappearing.