VISITOR complaints about the content of several dances and songs in the $5 million Smile of Angkor sound and light show at the Angkor Coex convention and exhibition centre have resulted in promises to overhaul the 75-minute dance epic’s program by its organisers.
The 104-performer show, billed as the “number one epic performance in Southeast Asia”, has attracted large audiences since its launch eight months ago, and the company behind it, the Siem Reap Performance & Arts Company, opened a new booking office in the centre of the city in April.
But the interpretation of several traditional Khmer song and dance routines in the show has been criticised by local audience members including Pannasastra University students Phung Danith and Khim Socheata who told 7Days that while they enjoyed the lasers and smoke machines, the show is weak on many historical points.
Phung Danith said: “We can say that the show was very professional. The technical aspects made me so excited and, to be honest, we got goose bumps while watching it. At some points it felt like the show was actually taking place during the Angkor period and not onstage.
“But as it went on, at some points it didn’t look like the show was about Khmer culture during the Angkor period, but instead appeared mixed with Chinese culture.”
Myanmar Airways International marketing executive Hun Vongpeak Reaksmey, who has seen the show more than four times, echoed Phung Danith and Khim Socheata’s concerns. She noted that as the show is aimed primarily at tourists, they may come away with an inaccurate view of traditional Khmer culture.
She said: “Some chapters are far from … an accurate reflection of Khmer culture. But it may be a deliberate decision to style the show to appeal to tourists. The tourists haven’t made any complaints because maybe they only know a little bit about Cambodian culture. But we are Cambodian so we’re the ones seeing the mistakes.
“In particular the Pray for Lives chapter of the show doesn’t look professional.”
One sequence showing a Cambodian woman showering under a waterfall came as a surprise to Southeast Asia University student Soth Bopha, who says sexualised scenes of the woman shaking her hair to music are not an accurate portrayal of conservative morality and the strict discipline adhered to by women during the Angkor period.
She said: “Hopefully Smile of Angkor will make corrections to some chapters. I felt very uncomfortable at that point in the show, because it seems to represent Cambodian women in a different way than people are used to. There are pictorial guides to the Angkor period on ancient temple walls which can be used to guide the performers.”
When concerns about the content of Smile of Angkor were raised with the show’s general manager, Fang Shun Dong, he promised to correct any elements of the performance deemed inauthentic, and told 7Days that the show will be revamped ahead of its first anniversary this November.
He said: “All the problems recently raised are being seriously focused on. Time is a big problem we have to face as the show is only eight months old and we have a lot of things to follow up and re-do again.
“Our main purpose at the moment is to deeply research original Khmer culture and history as well as the character and behaviour of people during that period, to ensure we can perform Smile of Angkor perfectly.”
He added that recent changes to the show’s program include the removal of Chinese dancers from the cast, and the investment of $6,000 in finding culturally authentic costumes.
“In the next month we will start to change the performers’ clothing, and try to make it look authentic and exactly like the historical period in which the show is set.
“All the Chinese dancers in the cast have been removed and the remainder are all Cambodian. Once the Cambodian Minister of Culture has checked our latest changes, we will launch the revamped version of the show which I hope will be even better than the one before.”