Friday, August 10, 2007

Siem Reap: Amazon Women

Lest you start getting visions of scantily clad women fighting the piranhas, this post refers to the dancers performing traditional Khmer dance at the Amazon Angkor restaurant. Yeah, I know... looks like a tourist trap, right?

And things didn't really bode well the moment we entered the main buffet area. The buffet spread was made up of the usual Japanese, Chinese, and Italian fare and hardly any real Cambodian delicacies. And it was chokeful of tourists, mostly Japanese.

For US$12, you get a buffet dinner in an 'authentic Cambodian environment' whilst being entertained by an award winning troop of local dancers performing the world renowned Apsara dance.

So there the four of us were.... busily chowing down our pasta and green curry chicken when the lights suddenly dimmed and out came the dancers dressed in a melange of colours.

The starting act was the Coconut Dance. It depicts the courtship rituals of young Khmer boys and girls. Apparently the girls use the coconut shells to keep the boys' amorous advances at bay.

Next up was the Chak Orn Krong, a dance about life in the fishing village. This time the music was livelier and the dancers displayed more gaiety and energy in their movements.

Ok, apparently, in this dance, the girls use the bamboo contraption that is supposed to be a fish trap to either trap the man of their desire or to chase him away, depending on her mood (read: the time of the month).

Shirley was quite content to just have a few pieces of fried wonton and pasta before she settled back to enjoy the performance.

Then came the piece de resistance. The Apsara dance. Even though traditional Khmer dances dates back to Angkorian times of the tenth century, the current incarnation was actually 'recreated' by former queen Kossamak Nearireath in the 1950s who engineered a renaissance of sorts for Khmer arts and culture.

Khmer classical dance suffered a huge blow during the Khmer Rougeregime during which many dancers were killed because classical dance was thought as of an aristocratic institution. Although 90 percent of all Cambodian classical artists perished between 1975 and 1979 after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, those who did survive kept the art alive by conducting Khmer classical dance training in the refugee camps in eastern Thailand.

The lead dancer who depicts the Apsara herself as according to the bas relief figures found on the Angkor temple walls used stylized movements and gestures to tell a story. The various hand gestures in Khmer classical dance are called kbach (meaning style). These hand gestures form a sort of alphabet and represent various things from nature such as fruit, flowers, and leaves.

The music used for Khmer classical dance is played by a pinpeat orchestra. This type of orchestra consists of several types of xylophones, drums, oboes and gongs and is said to have been influenced from the Javanese gamelan.

Ok, dessert time. The local version of ice-cream 'potong' involved freezing a deliciously sweet sweetcorn-coconut flavoured confection in ice within a narrow steel casing. The resulting popsicle is then carefully removed from the casing with a satay stick. It was perfect, so delicious in fact that I forgot to even take pics of the ice cream itself.

In the meantime, Wymen was busy with another sweetie. Wonder if he managed to get her number like he was planning to all night long...

As the performance drew to a close, we slowly made our way out of the restaurant. On my way out, this sweet young lady wished us all goodnight. It was a perfect way to end an eventful first day in Siem Reap.

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