Elderly Dance Masters

First Phase of KDP filming

Elderly dance masters

(Year 1, 2008)

The current situation of Royal Khmer dance compelled us to focus on interviews of elderly dance masters. Very few members of this first generation have survived the Khmer Rouge period. Prominent artists, such as Chea Samy, Chhea Khan, have already died. Only five remain:

Sin Sama Deuk Chho (Chho)

  • Sin Sama Deuk Chho (Chho)

Soth Sam On (Leah)

  • Soth Sam On (Leah)

Ros Kong (Kong)

  • Ros Kong (Kong)

Em Theay (Theay)

  • Em Theay (Theay)

Sim Muntha (Tha)

  • Sim Muntha (Tha)

Even though these master dancers played a prominent role in the renaissance of Royal Khmer dance, they still have no official biographies. Some information can be gleaned from research by western scholars such as Toni Shapiro and Eileen Blumenthal, but all wrote in English. Some masters such as Chea Samy, who died 10 years ago, or Em Theay were interviewed a number of times. Others however, are still not known, notably Soth Sam On, who is now in extremely poor health, or Sin Sama Deuk Chho, a retired dance master who still works to earn a living. The first phase took almost six weeks (March and July 2008) as each dance master was personally interviewed. Several hours were spent at each session asking the masters about their lives as artists in the Royal Palace, about traditional dances or melodies, and about the names of artists (dancers and musicians) who disappeared under the Khmer Rouge.

During this first phase we collected about 13 hours of interviews, which include the complete biography of each dance master; information about deceased artists and their names; and a portrait of King Sihamoni’s grandmother, Queen Kossomak Nearyrath the patron of the Royal Ballet during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

In addition during this first phase we enriched our collection by filming:

  • a ritual ceremony of homage to the spirit of dance
  • the rehearsal of an old ballet recreated by HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi and its final performance in Chatomuk Theatre
  • the Dance School at the new campus of RUFA
  • the student final examination of traditional songs