Lakhoan Khoal Khmer
August 31, 2018
Lakhoan Khoal Khmer is a masked dance drama featuring male performers. The repertoire consists solely of material from Reamker, the Khmer mythological tales.
The choreography is similar to the royal ballet of Cambodia though not as refined and is performed along with a narrator and ensemble of traditional Pinpeat Khmer instruments.
After losing the support of the royal court in the 19th century, the lakhon khol troupe of the Court of Oudong disseminated throughout the country. In the 20th century, it was performed by village troupes during the Cambodian New Year celebrations, with the Wat Svay Andet troupe being the most renowned. The form is structured as a combination of dance, chanted narration, and mimed gesture, all performed accompanied by pinpeat music.
The Cambodian lakhon khol (also lakhon khaol or lakhon bhani) is clearly a sister form of Thailand’s khon mask-theatre. They both illustrate mainly the localised versions of the Indian epic Ramayana, which is known in Cambodia as the Reamker and in Thailand as the Ramakien. They are both regarded as national epics in their respective countries and they are closely linked to the royal courts and the god-king cult.
The Thai khon has already been discussed earlier. Like khon, lakhon khol can also involve over a hundred actors, a percussion-dominated orchestra, narrators, singers, and a chorus. Both khon and lakhon khol employ decoratively painted and gilded papier maché masks covering the whole heads of the dancers who enact the demon and monkey roles. In Cambodia, however, the old practice of also covering the heads of heroes and heroines is also still sometimes followed.
The styles of the Cambodian and Thai masks are clearly related, although the lakhon khol masks are more robust in style nowadays. The lakhon khol dancers’ costumes are similarly related to the dance costuming of the Thai style that King Sisowath (1904–1927) had already adopted for his own court dancers.
It is generally believed that King Ang Duong (1796–1859) already had an all-male lakhon khol troupe among his court dancers. It is believed that after his death it dissolved and later became reconstituted in a village context. It is indeed a rare example of how a court tradition has been transplanted into village surroundings in the whole region of Mainland Southeast Asia. The village dancers were, from time to time, even invited to perform at the court.
Before the beginning of the long period of political unrest and wars at the beginning of the 1970s there existed as many as eight village lakhon khol troupes in Cambodia. When the country was, and still is, recovering from its hardships it seems that only one of these groups has survived the wars. It is the troupe that is active in the village of Svay Andet, across the Mekong River from Phnom Penh.
The Svay Andet group has usually performed during important festivals such as the New Year celebration in mid-April. The performances have retained their deep ritual and even magical functions. The performers are ordinary villagers, farmers etc., and the performances, often lasting several nights, usually involve numerous members of the community.
Although the basic conception of the Svay Andet lakhon khol originally stems from the court tradition, there are clear differences between it and the present court lakhon khol. As an all-male troupe the Svay Andet group concentrates more on the battle scenes and thus on the role categories of the monkeys and demons. More Detail, Readmore