The Last Mistress of the Royal Ballet

Em Theay turns 87 this year. She has lost all her teeth and most of her strength, but has not forgotten her artistry as a Royal Ballet mistress nor her great passion for the traditional performing art. Having devoted her entire life to this passion, she is now the only mistress of the Royal Ballet who is still struggling to pass on her honed skills to the younger generation, writes Taing Rinith.

During a celebration of the Water Festival in 1941, to honour the life-giving Tonle Sap River and the Angkorian Khmer Navy who liberated their land from oppression, the newly-crowned King Norodom Sihanouk held a Royal Ballet performance on a stage in front to the Royal Palace. That was one of the few opportunities of the year where Phnom Penh residents could catch a performance of the classical dances – a prestige enjoyed by monarchs and high officials of the palace.

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