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Captivating Royal Ballet debuts

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Historically, the Cambodian Royal Ballet exclusively performed for sacred rituals and only in recent decades has it opened its performance to the general public. Hong Menea

Captivating Royal Ballet debuts

The Royal Ballet of Cambodia will showcase its latest grand production Neang Watthana Devi for the first time in Cambodia in January, following performances in Switzerland and the UAE.

Created over the course of a year by Cambodian royal politician and Royal Ballet director Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, the production will launch with three performances on January 18 and 19 at Chaktomuk Theatre Hall in the capital.

The new production pays tribute to French artist Auguste Rodin, who first encountered the Royal Ballet of Cambodia in 1906 during their visit to Paris. Transfixed by the beauty of Khmer classical dancing, Rodin – considered the father of modern sculpture – created some of his most famous and revered drawings after inspiration from the dancers.

The story, based upon the show seen by Rodin in 1906, follows Neang Watthana Devi, a young woman of “pure and perfect beauty”, who arouses the jealousy of the goddess Raki. Raki orders the God Samidha to shoot her with an arrow so that she falls in love with the King of Garuda Sambali.

Speaking in a press conference at Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh earlier this month, Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, who also trains the dancers, said: “I’m very happy to work with these talented artists. We’re so excited to bring this amazing performance derived from the 1906 Royal Ballet to show the Cambodian public and foreigners so that they can understand more about the Khmer Royal Ballet.”

Renowned for its graceful hand gestures and intricate costumes, the Royal Ballet of Cambodia has been closely associated with the Khmer royal court for over one hundred years. In 2008, it was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.

Performance director Prince Sisowatt Tesso said the production is dedicated to the original form of the Royal Ballet during the reign of King Sisowatt in 1906, and heralded the work of Princess Norodom Buppha Devi in its creation.

“Princess Buppha Devi has been working so diligently to create this Royal Ballet performance. She spent a year perfecting the performance, which was first shown in Switzerland in May and then in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in early December,” he said.

Heralding the first performance of the show in Cambodia, Unesco’s Cambodia representative Anne Lemaistre said she hoped it would promote understanding of this precious art form.

“The public will get access to more performances and contribute to the preservation of this ancient art,” she said.

Historically, the Cambodian Royal Ballet exclusively performed for sacred rituals and only in recent decades has it opened its performances to the general public.

Neang Watthana Devi’s choreography coach Proueng Chhieng said that this precious art form needed more exposure to the public.

“We’ve lacked performances for the general public. As a result Cambodian people, especially the young generation, don’t show much interest in the art,” he said.

In Phnom Penh, the mid-January shows are the only opportunity for the public to witness the grace and beauty of the show in person. To watch this captivating classic Cambodian art form, tickets can be purchased via Last2Ticket and at the French Institute of Cambodia.

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