Mini-review – Cambodian shadow puppet show – La Noria, Siem Reap

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Having been recently disappointed by my attempt to see Apsara dance at the “Smile of Angkor” show, I decided to try again, this time for shadow puppets. My slightly out of date guidebook said that shows were done Wednesday nights (only) at a restaurant called La Noria, and to my surprise these shows are still happening five years on. The group that performs them is a charity (Krousar Thmey) which provides education and training to Cambodian orphans (I think, definitely kids), and all money raised from ticket sales (a grand $7 per head) goes to the orphanage. A good cause, I thought, so even if the show isn’t so great, I knew I wouldn’t end the night feeling I’d wasted my money. The evening is not done as a dinner/performance combo, so if you’re going to be eating beforehand, it will be a la carte off of La Noria’s menu, which runs about $7-$15 for entrees – outrageous by local standards but obviously not a bank buster for traveling first worlders. A bigger problem for me is that they were not comfortable about seating me by myself, but as it turns out they just needed confirmation that I was okay sharing a table – which I was. I showed up to the packed house­­­ at 7:15, ordered a Tropical Glory ice cream and fruit dessert (yum!) for $5, and got ready for the show.

The music was performed live, which was a treat for me: the sort of gamelan orchestra that I now think is the traditional sound for puppet shows and dance in this part of the world (must do more research to confirm!). The evening was actually a mix of shadow puppets and dance. Each bit was introduced in English and French, which was good, but unfortunately the shadow puppets talked to each other in Cambodian – a little hard to follow along with. The first piece was about a demon god fighting Hanuman – lots of sword shaking and the same kind of loud fight music and puppet actions that you get in Sicilian puppet shows – and the second was about a man and a woman having some kind of altercation about their water buffaloes (resulting in police intervention). The puppets were beautifully made, but for the second piece I was unfortunately lost. I could tell it was the kids doing the voices, though, which I liked, but I was frustrated that I hadn’t a clue what was going on.

For this reason, although I had wanted a full night of puppets, I was happy to have us switch to dance. Three dances were done, with costume changes. One had a bit of a romance – fisher boy teases fisher girl, she pushes him away, it all ends happily – while another involved the kids knocking bamboo poles on the floor longways, together (touching) then apart while the performers danced in the gaps. It would have been immediately recognizable to anyone whose seen jump rope tricks or, I think, even the same sort of dance done with, I think, swords.

The kids were obviously not professional and were occasionally looking at each other for cues, but they were positive and enthusiastic and I thought that, as a student performance, this was quite enjoyable and a much more pleasant evening than being jammed in a room with 500 people who were trying to talk louder than the performers. The upper story of La Noria, where the performance took place, was open air on the sides and a very nice place to relax; I only regret I didn’t have someone to sit and talk with before the show and I really should have left some more money in the collections kitty when I left. If you’ve got two nights in Siem Reap and one is a Wednesday, I would definitely recommend this show.

(This is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, January 7, 2015. Please be sure to contact La Noria and make reservations beforehand as it does sell out.)­­­­­­­­

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