Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Masked dance group goes to war



Masked dance group goes to war

Dancers from the Lakhon Khol Youth of Cambodia rehearse this month at the Royal University of Fine Arts.
Dancers from the Lakhon Khol Youth of Cambodia rehearse this month at the Royal University of Fine Arts. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Masked dance group goes to war

An army of monstrous birds will be clashing with legions of divine monkeys on stage at Beltei International University on Sunday – in an interpretation of Satalong, a mythical battle from the Hindu epic the Ramayana.

Despite being a largely amateur production, the scale of the Lakhon Khol performance – a traditional form of Khmer masked theatre and dance – is massive.

“This performance takes nearly 70 artists on stage. Of all the ones we’ve done before this is the biggest,” says Khon “Mo” Chansithyka, the general manager of the Lakhon Khol Youth of Cambodia.

The group, which has put on a performance about every six months, came together a year and half ago and consists of a collection of mainly student and amateur practitioners of the craft. For the last month and a half, they have been rehearsing on Sundays at an outdoor space at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA).

See the troupe in action:

“They are not professional dancers, but they are free on the weekend and they started learning it,” Mo says.

The 26-year-old is a lead Lakhon Khol dancer in the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, along with his brother Khon “Nan” Chansina, 24. Nan will interpret the role of the monster Satalong and also came up with the choreography for the production. A group of RUFA graduates will play traditional Khmer orchestral music.

“I performed this five years ago, for a RUFA graduation performance, but the technique and dance will be completely different,” says Nan, whose task involved choreographing two armies of 25 dancers each, plus the main characters. Many of those “soldiers” are younger members of the team such as 13-year-old Pheap Sovankakada.

“I’m a small monkey in the army of Rama,” he says. “I have to train hard like a soldier and be speedy and strong to fight the bird monster.” 

Pheap Sovankakada.
Pheap Sovankakada. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Satalong, or The Bird Monster Battle, as the group has titled the show in English, depicts a scene from the Ramayana in which the “evil” Ravana, the King of the Giants who kidnapped the Princess Sita, and Lord Rama do battle through proxies.

Of course, the good guys prevail in the end, but not before multiple epic fights after Ravana sends the “bird monster” to do battle.

Rama, meanwhile, enlists his brother Lakshmana to fight, aided by the monkey god Hanuman and his army.

The performance is free in the interest of promoting the art form, which has seen a steady decline in popularity over the decades since its glory days in the 1940s and ’50s, with only a handful of RUFA graduates pursuing the major each year. It was sponsored by the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and with private donations, including from Hun Many, one of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sons.

“Most of [our budget] comes from private citizens . . . about 60 percent,” he says. “The volunteers, the artists when we collaborate, we try not to think about the money.”

Satalong is on at Beltei International University on October 29 at 9am and at 4:30pm. Tickets are free but donations are encouraged at the door. To reserve call: 016 505 1682 / 081 552 123/ 098 770 076.

Video by Charlotte Pert

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Cambodia purchases 4 million Molnupiravir tablets

    Cambodia has arranged for the purchase of four million US-made Molnupiravir pills – enough to treat 100,000 Covid-19 patients – even though the current rate of daily infections in Cambodia remains low. The medicine will be distributed to state hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics, according to the Samdech

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • Cambodia planning new border checkpoint at Thma Da

    Cambodia is looking into the possibility of opening a new Thma Da Border Checkpoint with Thailand to boost trade and tourism. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport said on December 4 that Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol led a technical working group

  • Hun Sen: Manet to be candidate for prime minister

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has reaffirmed that his oldest son Hun Manet will be his successor as Prime Minister if he is elected. Speaking during the inauguration of a new sewage treatment facility in Preah Sihanouk province on December 2, Hun Sen said Manet will be