Stagecraft and Representation of Cambodian Intangible Heritage
Fri 14:00-15:30 Room 3.07
- Stéphanie Khoury Tufts University
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Cambodian Classical Dance: From a Royal Belonging to a World Heritage
Lucie Labbé Centre Asie du Sud-Est
Starting from the observation of last Royal Ballet tour in Europe (2018) which touched on the 1906 voyage of Cambodian royal dancers in France and their encounter with French artist Auguste Rodin, the presentation will deal with the historical episodes that have contributed, since the colonial era, to forging the current royal dance - or classical Cambodian dance - as well as its perception as a national and world heritage to be preserved. To do so, we will focus on the diversity and the agency of people involved in its definition and categorization. The agency of the dancers in particular will be questioned as regards to different patrons of the dance (royal family, French colonials and, later on, international institutions or tourists) who have in fact, and until recently, monopolized the discursive and symbolic tools defining court dance.
Memorializing the Exiled Master: Artistic Heritage, Tourism Development, and the Negotiation of Authoritarianism After the Death of Kong Bunchhoeun
Matthew Trew University of Wisconsin
Cambodia is aggressively pursuing the establishment of several new UNESCO World Heritage Sites in order to boost both tourism and national pride. Some of these still-pending UNESCO designations decentralize heritage away from the international tourism hub of Siem Reap, helping less popular regions of the country emerge due to their unique regional offerings. Many of these smaller regions represent alternative perspectives on Cambodian history, culture, and politics that run counter to the government’s preferred nationalistic discourse. Such is the case in the northwestern provincial capital of Battambang City, which experienced just such a clash in 2016 following the death of Battambang native Kong Bunchhoeun, one of the most celebrated creative minds in Cambodian history. In the days after his death, the government of Cambodia faced a need to memorialize the legacy of Kong Bunchhoeun in order to bolster an ongoing UNESCO World Heritage application yet was hampered by Bunchhoeun’s outspoken criticisms of the Cambodian government, for which he lived in exile in Europe. The death of Kong Bunchhoeun thus not only represented the loss of a cultural icon but also demonstrates how the heritage-making process sometimes forces authoritarian governments to make concessions in the names of tourism and capitalism.
Patronages and modes of representation of the rural classical all-male drama, lkhon khol
Stéphanie Khoury Tufts University
In this paper, I am looking at the fluidity and malleability of the concept of cultural heritage through the various and changing factors that have impacted the representation of the Cambodian all-male drama and the particular configuration and protagonists (individuals and institutions) that engendered its rise to fame in the late 2010s. Indeed, over time, the all-male musical theatre, the lkhon khol, has fulfilled different roles in relation to discrete forms of authority it was both serving and depending on. The complementary ritual opposite to the female royal ballet, the lkhon khol appears in historical archives from the early 20th century as implanted around centers of power, notably Phnom Penh and Battambang. This performing art has also generated various levels of attention that have shaped its public representation on the Cambodian cultural scene. Disregarded in French colonial records as comical and unprofessional, it remained nonetheless linked to the court until the mid-20th century, and to the Cambodian government since then. In the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide, the villagers who had historically been involved with the theatre revived the practice with the support of the government and of the local office of UNESCO while reopening a section of lkhon khol at the Royal University of Fine Arts. In 2018, a decade after the female ballet and the shadow theater, the rural practice gained recognition through its enlistment as Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of urgent safeguarding by UNESCO, thus bringing international light to this overshadowed practice. In considering the intersectionality of recognition, dismissal, and local reintegration of this artform, ultimately framing it as worthy of attention, I aim to open a broader reflection on the complex processes of meaning-making in performing arts.
The Interrelated Sociocultural and Political Aspects of Lakhon Bassac Theater Performances on TV and Social Media
Francesca Billeri University of Rome
In Cambodia at the present cultural television programmes are politically controlled and only musicians and theater groups showing a political affiliation with the government are invited to perform or allowed to work as musicians in television programmes. By examining television performances of a well-known lakhon bassac troupe, I use the concept of intersectionality as a tool for critical inquiry into the process of mediation of Intangible Heritage today showing the interlocked political and sociocultural aspects that shape theater performances such as the length of the performances imposed by the TV timeframe, the selection process of musicians/ensembles and drama stories operated by TV producers and the government as cultural brokers who made caution decisions based on their knowledge of the contemporary political landscape. The chapter shows how the process of mediation of traditional genres is driven by political dynamics and how artists embrace demands for national representation and promotion of individual creativity while being subject to current sociopolitical trends and audience-patrons’ interests.
Over the last few decades, Cambodian performing arts have been at the forefront of international initiatives sponsoring the restoration of arts as a symbol of cultural resilience in the aftermath of the 1970’s war and genocide. In the meantime, artists, art associations, educational, and administrative institutions in Cambodia and in the diaspora concentrate their efforts on promoting the traditional performing arts as heritage while also building on them to set a scene for Cambodian contemporary arts and negotiate national and cultural identities. In this context, how are ideas of culture and intangible heritage shaped? By whom and for whom? Through which processes? Under what constraints? Multiple actors, forms of power, and agencies contribute to the staging of Cambodian performing arts. In this panel, contributors address the legacy of colonialism and the challenge of definition of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia as world heritage (Lucie Labbé, CASE, France); the redefinition of patronages and modes of representation of the rural classical all-male drama, lakhon khol, in relation to social and political contexts (Stéphanie Khoury, Tufts University, USA); the articulation of tradition and modernity in televisual and online performances of wedding music and popular Bassac theatre (Francesca Billeri, La Sapienza, Italy); and the political mediation of heritage-related narratives through the memorialization of dissident poet and lyricist Kong Bunchhoeun (Matthew Trew, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA). Through these concrete examples, this panel aims to illustrate and discuss some of the complex intersecting factors that shapes intangible heritage in Cambodia today