One of the oldest forms of Khmer performing arts is being brought back to Phnom Penh for at least one night.
Lakhaon Khaol is classical dance theater in which many performers wear lacquer masks and all roles—male and female—are played by men.
The Ramayana epic, a love and war story of the seduction of a married woman and the battle between giants and the gods, is the only story ever told by the Lakhaon Khaol.
Saturday’s performance—only the fourth by the National Theater in 20 years—will be at 6 pm at the Chaktomuk Theater. It will be translated into both English and French. Tickets are 3,000 riel for citizens and $3 for foreigners.
The National Theater troupe, organized by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts’ department of performing arts, boasts more than 20 dancers. Roles include giants and monkeys.
Lakhaon Khaol was performed as early as the Angkor Wat period in response to early forms of Khmer classical dance which were all dominated by women, according to the Ministry of Culture.
The dance was at its most popular during the Lon Nol period, when there were eight professional troupes. Only one troupe, Wat Svai Andeat, remains. Two new troupes have been formed since: the National Theater and one based in Kompong Thom.
Money, however, is always an issue. Hang Soth, the director of department of the performing arts, said actors had a hard time making ends meet because they were paid only $5-$7 a month.
“The government needs to improve and revive the spirit of our culture,” Hang Soth said during a rehearsal Tuesday. “They have to kindly provide good pay for the performer and traditional Khmer theater should be performed many times.”
An anonymous donor is providing the funding Saturday’s performance, which is being organized by the Ministry of Culture, Unesco and the French Cultural Center, according to a statement issued by the ministry.
Hang Soth said the department is hoping to organize Lakhaon Khaol performances for every Saturday night at Chaktomuk and every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday in Siem Reap.