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Bayon temple lit up by Japanese theatre

noh
Noh performers at Bayon temple. Photo by: CLAIRE BYRNE

OUT of the darkness, the stone faces were suddenly set alight, as fire pits were ignited and an ancient Japanese art form was displayed.

The Bayon temple was lit up last week, as cultural figures from Japan and Cambodia joined forces. From October 25 to 26, hundreds of spectators witnessed the first Cambodian performances of Noh, a centuries-old Japanese theatre tradition.

The evening shows were set against the spectacularly lit-up temple in Angkor Thom.

Each night, two traditional plays were performed by the all-male actors from The Kita School, on a stage built in the traditional Noh fashion, complete with corner pillars and an entrance bridge.

The free plays were well received by the audience, which was mostly Khmer but also included tourists and expats who braved the heat and the swarm of flies that descended to bask in the high wattage lighting.

The stories were told through Japanese songs and script, though dances, props, and a program helped with narration.

Slow movements, heavily decorated costumes, eerie masks, sporadic drumming and haunting chants enhanced the novelty of the darkened temples.

The show was organised by the International Cultural Exchange Association, and aimed to deepen cultural understanding between Japan and the Kingdom. Following the Bayon debut, the company also performed a further two shows at Phnom Penh’s Chaktumuk Hall.

While many seemed to come out of curiosity, or simply to get a rare glimpse of the temples at night, most left with an appreciation for the artistry of Noh; its extraordinary singing style, measured movements, exquisite costuming and true-to-tradition staging. Language barriers were lifted and cultural boundaries were broken.

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