Traditional arts and performances used to be part of Khmer people’s daily life many centuries ago, as depicted on Angkor Wat’s bas-reliefs. However, when the Khmer Rouge reigned in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, many Khmer arts were prohibited and destroyed, including many temples. Many dancers, singers, and artisans were also killed.
Today Cambodia, with the help of foreign countries, is trying to cultivate and bring its traditional arts and culture back. Currently traditional art performances, such as Apsara dancing, are mostly held by private organizations, such as hotels and restaurants.
Cambodian Traditional Dances (Robam)
Hundreds of years ago, Robam (dance) Apsara was performed only for the Khmer Royals, though afterwards it was performed also for special celebrations held by the Royals, such as celebrations after winning wars. Later, an attack from the Siamese Kingdom (now Thailand) in the 15th century affected the Robam Apsara. The attack forced the Khmer Kingdom to move their capital to Phnom Penh and since then this dance was then limitedly performed only among Royals. More info of Apsara in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Apsara dance, as with many other Khmer dances, is commonly accompanied by the Khmer classical orchestra, Pinpeat (More about Pinpeat in Phnom Penh, Cambodia).
In the early 1900’s Khmer Queen Sisowath Kossamak Nearireath “re-launched” Apsara dance to the Cambodians. She was known to study Apsara dance history from much literature, including from bas-reliefs in temples in Siem Reap province.
These days Apsara dance can be watched in hotels or restaurants in Phnom Penh. Sovanna Phum, a theater, conducts Khmer Art performance, including shadow puppets, on a regular basis, usually every Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm. You can either call them on +855 23 987564, +855 23 221932 or visit its website: www.shadow-puppets.org.
Watch Apsara dance: www.youtube.com
Historians believe this dance is the Khmer’s most ancient dance. The dance was once performed, by the order of the Royals, to seek rain during the dry season and other blessings for the people of Khmer Kingdom.
Unlike Apsara dance, where experts can study from many bas-reliefs in Angkorian temples, information about Buong Suong is very limited. Experts believe that since Khmer Rouge exterminated many actors, dancers and other related people, detailed information on Buong Suong became rare.
Robam Trot (“Troddi” Dance)
This Khmer traditional folk dance is usually performed during Cambodia’s New Year celebration. It is believed that this dance originated from the western (northwestern) part of Cambodia when Khmer people were not influenced yet by the ancient Indian culture. Cambodian New Year date in 2012.
Robam Troddi or Trot is meant to remove all “bad things” that happened in the previous year and to wish for a better life in the New Year. Sometimes the dance is also performed to wish for rain during the dry season.
The performers usually consist of 16 dancers, both female and male.
Watch Troddi Dance: www.youtube.com
Cambodian Traditional Music
As Khmer traditional dances, some traditional musical instruments are also found on the Angkorian era temples’ walls, depicted in the bas-reliefs. Some of the traditional musical instruments are similar to the Javanese musical instruments, such as the Javanese “gamelan”. A few experts suggested that the former Khmer King Jayavarman II brought the influence of the ancient Javanese culture to Cambodia after his return from Java Island in the late 700’s.
The Khmer traditional music also suffered from the Khmer Rouge regime. Nowadays there is a shortage of Khmer traditional musicians in Cambodia, because many of them were killed. However foreign musical experts, together with Cambodian musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge, have been exploring and trying to foster the Khmer traditional music. In the old times, the Khmers played their music to accompany dancers while performing shows or at social gatherings. Their music is normally neither fast nor slow. Melodies are quite simple and there is no notation system.
Among the commonly known Khmer traditional music, such as Pinpeat, Mohori, Phleng Kar (Khmer wedding music), and Phleng Arak (more performed in order to pay respect to their ancestors), described below are two of them.
“Pi” refers to musical double-reed instruments and “Peat” refers to percussive instruments. Pinpeat is usually played accompanying Khmer traditional dances, as well as during religious ceremonies. While accompanying Khmer dancers, Pinpeat is a means of interaction between musicians, dancers and vocalists.
Commonly Pinpeat consists of around nine instruments, singers and chorus. Today, due to limited availability of Khmer traditional musicians, Pinpeat is sometimes performed with less instruments. The most frequent instruments include Roneat (picture left), which are xylophones, Kong Thom, a large circle of gong-chimes (small picture behind the roneat), Sampho, a small double-head barrel drum, and Skor Thom, a large drum.
Watch Pinpeat: www.youtube.com
In the old days Mohori was performed in the Royal Palace, just like Pinpeat, although it was sometimes also played in villages.
Even though the musical instruments used are quite similar to Pinpeat, Mohori’s main instruments consist of two kinds of Roneat and two kinds of Tro, a Khmer violin.