Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Masked dance group goes to war



Masked dance group goes to war

Dancers from the Lakhon Khol Youth of Cambodia rehearse this month at the Royal University of Fine Arts.
Dancers from the Lakhon Khol Youth of Cambodia rehearse this month at the Royal University of Fine Arts. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Masked dance group goes to war

An army of monstrous birds will be clashing with legions of divine monkeys on stage at Beltei International University on Sunday – in an interpretation of Satalong, a mythical battle from the Hindu epic the Ramayana.

Despite being a largely amateur production, the scale of the Lakhon Khol performance – a traditional form of Khmer masked theatre and dance – is massive.

“This performance takes nearly 70 artists on stage. Of all the ones we’ve done before this is the biggest,” says Khon “Mo” Chansithyka, the general manager of the Lakhon Khol Youth of Cambodia.

The group, which has put on a performance about every six months, came together a year and half ago and consists of a collection of mainly student and amateur practitioners of the craft. For the last month and a half, they have been rehearsing on Sundays at an outdoor space at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA).

See the troupe in action:

“They are not professional dancers, but they are free on the weekend and they started learning it,” Mo says.

The 26-year-old is a lead Lakhon Khol dancer in the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, along with his brother Khon “Nan” Chansina, 24. Nan will interpret the role of the monster Satalong and also came up with the choreography for the production. A group of RUFA graduates will play traditional Khmer orchestral music.

“I performed this five years ago, for a RUFA graduation performance, but the technique and dance will be completely different,” says Nan, whose task involved choreographing two armies of 25 dancers each, plus the main characters. Many of those “soldiers” are younger members of the team such as 13-year-old Pheap Sovankakada.

“I’m a small monkey in the army of Rama,” he says. “I have to train hard like a soldier and be speedy and strong to fight the bird monster.” 

Pheap Sovankakada.
Pheap Sovankakada. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Satalong, or The Bird Monster Battle, as the group has titled the show in English, depicts a scene from the Ramayana in which the “evil” Ravana, the King of the Giants who kidnapped the Princess Sita, and Lord Rama do battle through proxies.

Of course, the good guys prevail in the end, but not before multiple epic fights after Ravana sends the “bird monster” to do battle.

Rama, meanwhile, enlists his brother Lakshmana to fight, aided by the monkey god Hanuman and his army.

The performance is free in the interest of promoting the art form, which has seen a steady decline in popularity over the decades since its glory days in the 1940s and ’50s, with only a handful of RUFA graduates pursuing the major each year. It was sponsored by the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and with private donations, including from Hun Many, one of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sons.

“Most of [our budget] comes from private citizens . . . about 60 percent,” he says. “The volunteers, the artists when we collaborate, we try not to think about the money.”

Satalong is on at Beltei International University on October 29 at 9am and at 4:30pm. Tickets are free but donations are encouraged at the door. To reserve call: 016 505 1682 / 081 552 123/ 098 770 076.

Video by Charlotte Pert

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen: Full country reopening to be decided in two weeks

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that if the Covid-19 situation remains stable for 15 consecutive days from the end of the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, Cambodia will reopen fully, albeit in the context of Covid-19 whereby people have to adjust their lives to

  • Phnom Penh governor: Show Covid-19 vaccination cards, or else

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng late on October 5 issued a directive requiring all people aged 18 and over and the parents of children aged 6-17 to produce Covid-19 vaccination cards when entering schools, markets, malls, marts, eateries and other business establishments that have been permitted

  • Cambodia seeks probe into 'false reports' on Hun Sen's alleged Cypriot passport

    Minister of Justice Koeut Rith on September 6 wrote a letter to his Cypriot counterpart Stephie Dracos requesting cooperation in investigating and providing the truth in relation to the "exaggerative and false allegations" that Prime Minister Hun Sen holds a Cypriot passport. In his letter, the

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • 'Pandora Papers' expose leaders' offshore millions

    More than a dozen heads of state and government, from Jordan to Azerbaijan, Kenya and the Czech Republic, have used offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a far-reaching new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (

  • Cambodia voted ‘world’s friendliest country’ in Rough Guides reader poll

    Cambodia ranked number one among the “World’s Friendliest Countries”, according to a reader poll conducted by London-based international website “Rough Guides”. Taking submissions through Twitter and Facebook, “Rough Guides”, a well-known travel agency and publisher of guidebooks, said the Kingdom “was by far the