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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Royal Ballet in slow recovery

Royal Ballet in slow recovery

R OYAL Ballet director Professor Hang Soth is counting on a $150,000 donation from the French Government as just an initial step to strengthen the fragile organization.

"We are very much alive," Hang Soth says, adding that the cramped conditions in which to practice and the lack of money could begin to disillusion the Royal dancers.

"The Royal ballet is very precious, it can grow but it can go downhill fast. There is a feeling of belonging to the ballet - the dancers begin when they are children and have to have a fine arts degree and another seven years experience before they join - but you can't uphold that feeling for a long time under these conditions," he says.

The Royal troupe has many groups such as theater, drama, music, the ballet and other classical dancing. None of the groups can practice together.

The ballet has only now been able to practice on thick carpets instead of a tarpaulin over the concrete foyer of the theater. The $900 carpets were donated by Australian-Khmer dancer Kannika Koy, proceeds from a concert Kannika and the ballet performed.

The French Embassy has now donated money "but we haven't got it yet," Hang Soth says, and the ballet is about to seek sponsorship to help pay for a PA system and lighting.

However, hundreds of thousands of dollars or more could be spent immediately to build more practice area. Hang Soth says the plans for 1995 include fundraising, sending dance teachers into the provinces, and publishing much-needed books about the ballet's recent history. There is now a lack of video, audio and written material.

"It is very important to make people aware of classical dance, it is crucial in the drive to ensure that Cambodians start identifying with their culture," he says.

The rebuilding of the Bassac, which was severely damaged by fire this year, is unlikely to happen within the next four or five years, and could cost anything up to $5 million.

However, there are "thousands" of youngsters around the provinces who had put their name down for a place in the university's fine arts course, he says. The Royal Ballet is still the most prestigious dance group that youngsters aspire to join.

"But I would like our dancers to enjoy a standard of living as they did during King Sihanouk's time," Hang Soth says. Dancers then could save $200 a month even after paying for their homes and families, he says.

"Our dancers now are paid only as public servants, maybe $15 to $20 a month," he says.

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