I took the opportunity to visit the ancient city of Angkor in Cambodia (May, 2007), place of dreams and poetry. Almost 5 days were enough to see most of this huge wonder of the world. Well I’m a man into performing arts, and I was looking for any of them, and I found some, yes.
I knew that Cambodia had retaken its fantastic tradition of Puppetry and Dancing, but Angkor (or Siem Reap the city nearby where all the tourists stay at) was not the place to look for, as everything is happening in Phnom Pen. Reading about cultural activities near Angkor I found there was a restaurant with a Shadow Puppet show and, in another part of town, a Puppet workshop headed by the German organization House of Peace, with a small shop inside a temple’s grounds.
Finding our way to the shop was not easy, even the guide didn’t know about it, but with a little bit of perseverance, asking here and there, we reached it: in fact it was located in the grounds of a temple outside Siem Reap. The first thing I saw was a small blue-sky coloured sign with the name of the organization above the entrance of a small humble house, and two lion figures at both sides of the door; then the body of a woman sleeping on the floor, a cat close to her (sleeping as well) and dozens of leather puppets inside.
Just as we arrived the woman woke up (not the cat; it stayed asleep during the whole visit), and with a friendly demeanor invited us in to see what she sold there. While she showed each of the puppets the guide translated, then we asked about the prices (between 10 to 80 dollars, depending on the work put in and size), the name of each figure, the characters they represented (mostly from Hindu mythology) and confirmed that they, the workshop, had made the puppets for La Noria Shadow puppet show.
I think the photos and video are very clear showing what happened and how it looked like exactly.
Every figure was made of leather (mainly cow hide), with almost no colour, only black outlining the shape of each character; and with three long sticks to handle and move it, one for the body and two for moveable arms. They were really beautiful and delicate; the moment the lady showed us how the puppets looked from behind a screen she had, as in a show, was a kind of magic instant.