If you know anything about the recent history of Cambodia, you know it’s pretty painful. Estimates are that 25% of the population, or two million people, died under the Khmer Rouge in just four years (1975-79) from execution, forced labour and starvation. But tonight we saw a hopeful people at a performance of Cambodian Living Arts.
Cambodia has a rich cultural history that uses song and dance to convey oral traditions. But in 1975 these traditions came to a screeching halt when the Khmer Rouge seized power and was bent on creating an agrarian society where citizens professed total devotion to the state.
To achieve this society, Cambodia shut itself off from the rest of the world, required citizens to disavow friends and family, forced people to leave the cities to live on farm cooperatives, and forbid the practising of religion. Anyone who objected was tortured and executed.
Those who appeared to be intelletuals were murdered, even if the victim was simply wearing glasses, a watch, or knew a second language. In this climate, it is estimated that 90 per cent of Cambodia’s artists were killed.
In 1999, a survivor of the genocide and son of parents involved in Cambodian opera, Arn Chorn-Pond, founded the Cambodian Master Performers Program. The program initially helped four surviving artists to buy instruments, acquire teaching space, and earn a salary to pass on the traditional performing arts to a new generation of Cambodians.
Today the program has evolved into Cambodian Living Arts, which supports young Cambodians in acquiring performing arts skills and learning traditional music and dances.
We attended an evening performance that included eight folk dances. The performance was accompanied by traditional music and singing.
The girls loved the performance, and wanted to meet the dancers at the end of the show. They went on to stage to have their picture taken, and once again I’m reminded of how tall they are compared to the rest of the world outside of Canada!