Plae Pakaa: A revival of ancient Khmer performance art

After our first day of settling into and exploring Phnom Penh, Danielle and I were looking for something to do for the evening. We didn’t want to go too far away from the guesthouse, but we also didn’t want to just sit in our rooms and watch TV for the night. I had heard about the Plae Pakaa productions both on Trip Advisor and out on the street while walking around so we decided it was worth checking out. Since the National Museum of Cambodia (where the performances are held) were just a block down the street, we headed there by foot.

I’m glad to say that we went to see the performance. It was marvelous. All of the actors were university students who had been working with the Cambodian Living Arts organization since they were teenagers. Everything was authentic–from the live music to the dances–and ambitious in its presentation. I was really quite blown away by the talent of the performers and the dedication to their craft.

This particular operatic form is referred to as Yike opera and originates in the Cham and Malay cultures of Southeast Asia, and is predominately Islamic in artistic tradition. The tragedy is a story about Mak Therng, a peasant farmer who falls in love with a woman. She is eventually taken by the prince of the region and Mak Therng is accused of attacking the prince. At the trial, Mak Therng ends up proving his innocence, the deceptions of the prince, and gains the grace of the king.

Plae Pakaa are original productions of ancient Khmer art performed by the Cambodian Living Arts organization. This organization seeks to revitalize performance art forms which were lost during the rule of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979).  CLA does this by employing students, professionals, and academics who engage with each other and the community. The organization provides a platform for students to gain professional skills and education throughout their life while preserving Cambodian culture. Click here for more information about CLA.


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