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Masked dance tradition rises from near extinction

Heritage boost: A dancer getting ready for a performance of Lakhon Khol in Kandal province, Cambodia.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Cambodia’s centuries-old tradition of masked dance was nearly wiped out by the Khmer Rouge’s “Killing Fields” regime, but a handful of artists managed to keep it alive and are now working to pass it along to a new generation.

Sun Rithy’s father and grandfather were both performers of the Lakhon Khol masked dance, but the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge — who scorned most art as decadent — banned its study when he was a child in the 1970s. Now 48, Sun Rithy leads one of the last Lakhon Khol troupes in Cambodia, made up of about 20 performers and students aged six to 15. For him, teaching a new generation is a matter of survival for the tradition.

“I don’t want Lakhon Khol ... to go extinct,” Sun Rithy said.

Lakhon Khol was recently listed by UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, as an intangible cultural heritage, along with neighbouring Thailand’s version of the dance, known as Khon.

There are different variations in southeast Asia, all featuring dancers wearing elaborate painted masks depicting the Ramayana.

But in Cambodia, the art form is still struggling to recover from the Khmer Rouge, under whose genocidal 1975-79 rule at least 1.7 million people, including artists, dancers and writers, died, mostly from starvation, overwork, disease, execution or torture.


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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 10:03:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/masked-dance-tradition-rises-from-near-extinction/article25921042.ece

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