Sovanna Phum Shadow Puppet Theatre, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Sovanna Phum means Golden Age in the ancient language of Cambodia, Khmer.  This shadow puppet theatre loated in Phnom Penh, claimed it as their name with the intention of reviving one of the unique indigenous art forms that evolved in Cambodia.  The skilled and multi talented artistic director, Mann Kosel, trained and rehearsed his artists not only to perform but to make the actual leather filigree figures of the puppets and set pieces.  Some are articulated, some are not, but they all depict and tell the stories of the Ramayana which lies at the heart of their culture.  The artists collect the fresh cow or buffalo hides from the slaughter house, stretch them and peel them to the required thickness stretching them on frames to dry them in the sun.  When they are primed, carefully devised cutting tools also made by them are used to cut away the leather.  They are then tinted and dyed in various tan shades from pale brown to black and cut using ancient traditional templates.  The production of one such figure can take up to three months and sometimes more.  The execution is no easy skill to acquire.  In performance, following the ritual of the lighting of the incense and asking the gods for their blessings, live dancers combine with the puppets to display their magic.  Music and singing is integral to each presentation.