When talking about the Khmer culture, it’s a pity if you won’t mention the name of their dance-drama, called “Ro bam”, a treasure of the Khmer culture.
Being as a classical dance-drama on the Khmer’s royal stage, the “Ro bam” or “Rom Ro bam” is one of the Khmer theatrical forms and regarded as the summit of artistic values. It is a performance of dancing, singing, and costumes.
Normally, the stories of the Ro bam theatrical genre are old stories, legends, and mythology through dance movements, with the common topics of Buddhism, Brahmanism, and India’s Ramayana epic. The educational and moral philosophy of Khmer people is reflected through scripts and dance movements.
In each “Ro bam” royal stage performance, the costumes, behavior, and dialogue of the characters reflect the royal manner. The design of a Ro bam stage follows a number of conventions. A play is often divided into two contrasting groups: the good characters – represented by the King, princes, and princesses, who don’t wear masks & the bad ones who are different types of people who wear masks.
The roles have to follow conventional dance movements of hands and feet. There are 33 dances with different meanings. The masks reflect the Indian culture harmoniously combining artistic and graphic values and express evil minds, masks of the Monkey King Hanuman, the horse Manoni, and sacred animals like the bird, phoenix, tortoise, and snake.
Apart from the good and evil roles in each “Ro bam” play, there is also a clown – who plays an important part in lightening the mood on the stage. The background music is provided by drums, gongs, and flutes. Drum sounds heighten the fight scenes while flutes bewail more mournful situations.
Up to now, “Ro bam” has been widely introduced throughout the Mekong Delta, particularly in Tra Vinh and Soc Trang provinces, under the sponsorship of Khmer pagodas. If you want to experience this kind of royal stage, going on Mekong Delta tours is the best choice.
A member of the Ro bam Sasac Bung Chong art troupe in Soc Trang, Son Del, strongly noted “Ro bam was developed by our ancestors and we’ve tried to preserve it. We perform it to entertain Khmer people, not for money. We also perform it our Robe-offering ceremony”.
In daily life of local people in the Mekong Delta, Ro bam dance-drama has been performed at Khmer festivals and in villages for relaxing and entertainment after a harvest. It has become not only the pride of the Khmer but also a typical genre among Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups.