Lakhaon khaol is a masked dance drama featuring male performers. The repertoire consists solely of material from “Ream Ke” epic. The choreography is styled similarly to that of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.
To encourage Cambodians to support lakhaon khaol, Khmer Art Reek Sai director and lakhaon khaol performer Hang Phumra urges all local people to attend the “Achievement and Future” event.
“My only hope is that Cambodians will join together to preserve lakhaon khaol Khmer,” Mr Phumra said.
Not many young people attended the first “Achievement and Future” – just a few Royal University of Fine Arts students who majored in the art form, Mr Phumra recalled.
But hearing the applause from the audience left him with goosebumps, he said.
“While the applause was thrilling, it was disappointing that so few people in the audience were Khmer,” Mr Phumra said.
Mr Phumra is concerned about the lack of support that this masked dance drama is receiving.
“I teach lakhaon khaol Khmer dance for free, and still there is almost no one coming to study it. Why is that? Do we support it or not?” he said.
As for why so few young people want to study lakhaon khaol Khmer, Mr Phumra said that sometimes parents discourage it because they associate it with homosexuality and also do not believe it will allow their children to make a living.
Song Kimsan, 19, is a lakhaon khaol actor who specialises in the role of Haknuman (the Monkey warrior).
“The reason I took up lakhaon khaol is that my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were also performers of this character,” he said. “I want to continue in order to help preserve this traditional dance form. Even though others in my family are not actors, I want to study this.”
Kim Samsovanney, a representative of the Reeksai team, had a more optimistic view of youth interest in the art from, saying youth have gotten more involved in supporting lakhaon khaol through the “Achievement and Future” event in the last few years.
“In the last few years, many youths have volunteered to help us put on the event, which keeps lakhaon khaol alive; we get a lot of support from them,” Ms Sovanney said. “When they volunteer for this kind of event, they do not only show a love of preserving their culture, but they also gain work experience,” she added.
Khe Vannda, a student at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, said the reason he wants to volunteer for this kind of event is to show that Cambodian youth support Khmer culture and love this traditional form of dance. He said he wants to keep it alive as an example of Cambodian culture.
He urged all Cambodians, especially young people, to help preserve their culture.
“I encourage other young people to please join us to help preserve our lakhaon khaol Khmer so that it will always be performed in our country,” Mr Vannda said.