The art of Khmer Shadow Puppetry
Shadow puppetry in Cambodia is closely linked to those in Thailand and Malaysia and Indonesia. The Cambodians refer to this form of art as Lakhaon Nang Sbek, or simply Sbek Khmer. The Khmer people divide shadow puppetry into two performances: the Sbek Thom (Giant Puppets) and Sbek Toich (Small Puppets). For thousands of years this form of art has entertained large crowds of spectators. Creating the figures is an art on its own as artisans carve them by hand out of leather. These figurines are being held against a white screen, which is lighted from behind, traditionally with a fire. This creates the shadow images on the white cotton screen. Next to Apsara Dancing, which is a form of the Ramayana Ballet, Sbek Khmer is becoming rapidly a very interesting form of art to local and foreign visitors.
The puppets represent many art forms. They are a mix of many form of art, including music, choreography, poetry, costume and craft. The stories can be vulgar folk tales or sublime meditations on great myths. They can be epic, or jocular. The Bambu Stage in Siem Reap has brought an entirely new dimension to the art scene in Siem Reap. While Shadow Puppetry is only one of the many art shows they perform at the Bambu Stage, it definitely is one of the more evoking performances. Set in a tremendous garden in the heart of Siem Reap, the show is regarded to as one of the best presented performances in town and very much recommendable as well to families.
An experience to savor
We were welcomed by a Khmer flute player. A welcome drink was served and we were introduced to Soran, the master puppeteer. He showed us how the figures were carved out of leather and explained more about the interesting story lines about to be performed. We were seated in the garden opposing the huge screen. Little lanterns and a big bonfire lighted the garden, which created a very intimate and warm feeling. The action and stories fascinated throughout the evening. Carved out animals and mythical figures presented itself on the screen and told the tale of one of Cambodia’s most popular folklore. During the performance, a delicious meal was presented that was equally impressive. The entire experience created such an energy buzz to all of us and being surrounded by such a beautiful atmosphere, none of us wanted to leave.