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Traditional Cambodian dance

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The tick-list of things to see in Phnom Penh is often heavy on the brutal history, leaving visitors sometimes reeling and with only a bite-sized impression of the country’s rich heritage—one of the best ways to address this is by catching a performance of traditional Cambodian dance.

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While you may struggle to believe this when you’re seated in yet another Khmer BBQ joint, Cambodia’s musical and performance accomplishments actually go well beyond karaoke. Beautifully demonstrated by Cambodian Living Arts at the National Museum, an hour-long evening performance can be just thing you are looking for.

The story is fairly easy to follow. Photo taken in or around Traditional Cambodian dance, Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

The story is fairly easy to follow. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The magic takes place down a lantern-lit path in the gardens of the National Museum, in a small outdoor theatre. Running nightly, the performance we saw in January 2019 was called Earth and Sky, and was an eight–part show showcasing a variety of traditional performances.

The series of acts aim to take you “on a magical journey through Cambodian mythology, ancient traditions and village life” which, in practise means that each act showcases a particular dance style, musical instrument—or both.

Strike a pose. Photo taken in or around Traditional Cambodian dance, Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Strike a pose. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The show kicks of with a reenactment of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, which then produces apsaras who work to restore peace on Earth. Fast forward a few centuries and it is harvest time as the villages gather for their daily activities built around harvest season, only to realise drought is upon them.

With a drought on hand, entreaties are made to the King to sort out a ritual dance to pray for rain and you’re presented with a showdown between the water goddess and the storm spirit—the former prevails and a thunderstorm hits. With the rain, life returns to the Earth and this is beautifully presented with a dancing peacock and some very funny moment with rascal-like monkeys—watch out kids in the front row! With life aplenty, the villages go for a bit of fishing, but the tale turns into a ... Travelfish members only (Around 400 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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Traditional Cambodian dance
National Museum, Corner of Street 178 and Street 13, Phnom Penh
T: (017) 998 570
Admission: $15-$25

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