The little girl with the golden fish tail attached to her back strikes a pose as the boy in the monkey mask capers around her.
In their elegant costumes, their limbs delicately extended, it is hard to imagine that these two young children narrowly avoided growing up on the streets of Phnom Penh. Instead, they are performing traditional dance for an enthusiastic audience—and thanks to them, Phnom Penh has its first nightly Khmer dance show in 25 years.
The dancers are poor children between the ages of 6 and 15 from an orphanage operated by the Cambodian Light of Children Association in Tonle Bassac commune. On Wednesday, they debuted a show they will perform for tourists every night at La Croisette restaurant on the riverfront.
The performances aim to showcase traditional dance nightly, help a worthy charity that gives shelter and education to nearly 100 children and give the enthusiastic children a chance to perform, its boosters say.
It is the first nightly showcase of or the first time since 1975, when the city fell to the Khmer Rouge.
“If this works, it will pretty much double the income of the charity,” said Dean Stanton, a British volunteer who has helped restaurant owner Pierre Bitchef and orphanage director Path Non get the project started.
Path Non was a teacher of Khmer literature before the Khmer Rouge took control.
“We want to keep the fine arts of Cambodia alive,” he said of his organization, which has been helping children for 20 years. “All the children love the fine arts of Cambodia very much.”
Indeed, the children’s dances may not be technically perfect, but they are full of energy. One small girl looked positively gleeful as she flung flower petals at diners in the front row during Wednesday’s show, sprinkling their food with fragrant buds.
The dances are classical or folk Khmer performances. One is a Cham Muslim routine called the Dance of the Beloved’s Handkerchief. The dancers are accompanied by live Khmer music played by alumni of the orphanage who learned their instruments while at the orphanage.
The collaboration between the orphanage and La Croisette came about because Bitchef, the restauranteur, has been helping teach French to the children for the last year.
For the dance shows, the restaurant pays the orphanage a monthly retainer and a percentage of ticket sales. The organizers would not reveal the exact amounts, saying they expect similar shows to pop up to compete with them.
Tickets to the show, which begins at 6:30 pm, are available at hotels and travel agencies for $15 or at the door for $12, and include a three-course dinner. Without the dinner, the fee for the performance is $2.