Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Angkor's legend rises

Angkor's legend rises

A spectacular stage show in front of the famed temple revisits the lost Hindu civilisation as it was when Suryavarman II commanded all he saw

Published on December 19, 2007

Angkor's legend rises

Cambodia's Culture and Fine Arts Department continues to breathe new life into ancient Angkor, this time with a magnificent light-sound-and-dance show that tells the story of the Hindu faith that flourished in the area when this was the capital of the entire region.

"The Legend of Angkor Wat: When History Comes to Life" is being staged in the midst of the venerable sanctuary through January 20.

A thousand seats arranged on a gentle gradient face the stage with no less than the five famed towers of Angkor Wat itself as the backdrop.

Built in the 12th century, the vast temple complex was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The story of the Angkor civilisation's rise and fall had been a legend among traders and explorers for a millennium until French naturalist Alexandre Henri Mouhot located the ruins in the jungle in the mid-19th century.

He was astonished to find enormous bas-relief sculptures of sandstone apsara dancers among the foliage and explored further. Gradually the scale of the lost treasure revealed itself once more.

This is the setting, once night falls, where beams of colourful light wash over the mediaeval fortress in a 50-minute, six-act performance that takes spectators time travelling back to the days of King Suryavarman II.

Seeing Angkor by night is special enough, but watching dancers emerge gracefully from the ornate stone galleries seems as though the apsaras of old have sprung back to life.

There are 150 performers in the show, all Cambodians. Most are professionals from Phnom Penh, and some are models and well-known stars of film and television, such as Tep Rindaro and Sim Solika.

The performance is in English, with Japanese and Khmer subtitles screened at either side of the stage. Images are projected on a curtain of water as well.

Every scene, replete with special effects, is so outstanding that at times you might be distracted from the historical narrative. Following the subtitles does indeed rob your attention from significant action onstage, so it's best to be content with the printed synopsis and focus on the performance. In any event, nothing is too complicated to understand.

The evening makes Angkor so much more impressive, and some of the lighting for the show is set within the temple compound itself.

The director of the show, Peung Chiang of the Department of Culture and Fine Arts, points out that multimedia technology - especially when mingled with traditional performance - makes the ancient empire more interesting for a general audience.

"Angkor Wat is like a diamond," he says. "When it's carried or covered with velvet, it's more precious and worthy. And this performance is like a dish of food. It's a combination of various ingredients ready to serve."

Suwicha Chanitnun

The Nation

Siem Reap, Cambodia

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