The Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh may not have as many spots to watch traditional Cambodian dancing at as Siem Reap, but there are still a handful of top-class options to choose from. Here’s where to watch them, and some of the troupes that are worth keeping an eye on.
As the main organisation tasked with bringing traditional arts back to life and steering it in a new, modern direction, Cambodian Living Arts trains musicians, dancers, singers, and other performers, providing them with the props to make a living from their art. One arm of their efforts is the daily shows at the capital’s National Museum, which runs from 7pm to 8pm. The Traditional Dance Show takes audiences on a journey from Angkor’s palaces to the villages of today through song, music, and theatre.
Sovanna Phum Arts Association worked tirelessly to keep the arts alive in the capital. It employs more than 120 artists, and puts on a range of shows every Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm. These include shadow puppet theatre, classical Apsara dancing, folklore, mask dances, and traditional music. Visitors can also try their hand at dance, drums, or circus skills at a private workshop.
Headed by renowned classical Cambodian dancer Sophiline Cheam Shaprio, this ensemble is an internationally-renowned classical dance and music company that is based at the Khmer Arts Theater in Takhmao, Kandal Province, outside of Phnom Penh. While the award-winning troupe is often overseas showcasing Cheam Shapiro’s groundbreaking choreography, they perform on hometurf several times a year – often at Chaktomuk Conference Hall – so it’s worth keeping an eye on their website and Facebook page.
Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA is Cambodia’s first gay dance company, re-staging Khmer classical dances with a contemporary streak. The groundbreaking troupe recently took up residency at the newly opened Java Creative Cafe’s theatre in Toul Tom Poung. They can also be seen performing at various other locations across the capital.
Designed by revered Cambodian architect and father of the New Khmer Architecture movement of the 1950s and ’60s, Van Molyvann, Chaktomuk Conference Hall stands on the capital’s riverside, overlooking the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. It hosts a string of performances throughout the year, including several dance shows so keep an eye on its Facebook page for upcoming events.
If you fancy learning first hand the traditional art of apsara – Cambodian ballet – or bokator, the ancient Khmer martial art – then Selapak, which translates from Khmer to the arts, is a good place to start. It runs traditional dance and martial art initiation classes, demonstrations and lessons, all led by experts in their field. Private classes can be arranged on request. Performances can also be viewed.