Classical dancers, Chapei musicians, tribal ceremony participants, circus performers, disabled contemporary dancers and Broadway singers performed on the same stage in front of a packed audience at Chaktomuk Theater on Saturday night.
The performers opened the five-day Cambodian Youth Arts Festival, which involves performances from 24 art organizations and workshops that 500 young people will participate in.
Blind musician Kong Nai, one of the last living masters of the Cambodian long necked guitar known as the Chapei Dang Weng, opened the night, followed by gold-clad classical dancers from the Culture and Fine Arts Ministry.
An ethnic minority Kreung group from Ratanakkiri province performed a ritual dance, while the Pharle Ponleu Selpak circus group from Battambang used juggling and long poles in a modern piece.
After a number of more traditional performances, the show ended with two wheelchair users and two deaf dancers from Kampot’s Epic Arts organization, then a medley of songs from the Khmer rock opera “Where the Elephant Weeps.”
“We tried to include a diversity using traditional forms with experimental and modern ones coming through,” said Bobbie Bigby, co-chair of the festival’s artistic committee, which includes members of Cambodian Living Arts and other arts groups.
During workshops yesterday, the only remaining four troupes that perform Sbek Thom-an endangered form of Khmer shadow puppetry-joined together for the first time.
Vann Sophea Vouth, leader of the Wat Bo troupe from Siem Reap, said the occasion was important as it allowed the few remaining Sbek Thom artists to work together to preserve the art form.
“If we do not have [the artists], then we do not have Sbek Thom,” Mr Sophea Vouth said, comparing the different troupes to traditional instruments made of metal and wood. “The instruments are so different, but together they produce a good sound.”
Last night’s line-up also included acts from a new musical, set in present-day Cambodia with flashbacks to the Khmer Rouge era, called “Winds of Angkor” by British composer Sarah O’Brien.
Ms O’Brien said that reading love letters from Tuol Sleng published in a British newspaper inspired her to compose the musical about love between prisoners there and its impact on a Western journalist.
“It is the first performance in front of an audience, and it happens to be in Cambodia, which is a dream come true after ten years working on it,” she said.