Popil Khvay Samnang

Courtesy of the Artist Photo: Aad Hoogendoorn

In Popil (2018), we see two dancers perform a traditional Cambodian Khmer dance. This classical dance – originally a religious ritual – was at first performed in the palace at Phnom Penh, but the dance was banned during the dictatorship of the Khmer Rouge. In recent decades, however, following the death of Pol Pot, the dance has undergone a revival. In fact in 2003, UNESCO proclaimed the dance a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Following a period of dictatorship and many wars, Cambodia had become steeped in poverty and dire circumstances. The country desperately needed to rebuild itself, and in recent years China has come forward as a major party in supporting that reconstruction. The press recently described the relationship between Cambodia and China as a ‘love match’.
Traditionally, the Khmer dance served as a ritual to promote dance and fertility. Samnang created Popil as a contemporary love story in which the two dragons represent China and Cambodia. The dragons’ dance movements mimic the currents of the two largest rivers of Cambodia and China, whilst at the same time representing the movement of capital between the two countries. Popil in this way becomes a critical parable, the dance portraying and rewriting the complex relationship, geography and balance of power between the two countries that dance around each other.