Dance, Music and Theatre in Laos
The performance traditions of Laos closely resemble the classical arts of Thailand and Cambodia. The Khmer occupation of Laos led to the development of a style of courtly dance which is still performed today. Like the dance-dramas of Thailand and Cambodia, dancers in these performances wear elaborate and colorful costumes, often accompanied by golden tiered crowns and much jewelry. Laotian classical dance consists of set movements of the head, neck, arms, fingers, legs, and feet. As in Cambodia and Thailand, dancers perform barefoot. Both men and women perform in Laotian classical dance performances.
One indigenous aspect within the performance traditions of Laos is in the music. Laotian dance and sung drama is accompanied by a large orchestra. The instruments include gongs, wide drums, small chimes, flutes, and strung instruments that are bowed across the body (much like a cello in the West). The national instrument of Laos is a type of reed-pipe organ, called a khen. The khen is used to accompany Laotian sung dramas. Men and women sing love songs to each other, weaving together a troubadour story known as mohlam, or “courts of love” play. The mohlam luong, or “folk opera” formed as the indigenous mohlam tradition and the Thai likay folk-performance merged during times of Thai rule. Today, the costuming and movements within the mohlam luong still have a Thai-inspired look, but the music is distinguishably Laotian. Though the mohlam tradition is antique, this performance tradition is still thriving today, and is very popular with Lao people both in Laos and abroad.
Much like Cambodia, many artists and performers in Laos have had to escape the country due to violence. New Laotian dance troupes have been founded in the United States and Australia, and are working determinedly to preserve Laotian classical performance arts. Many of these new troupes can be found at new Laotian resettlements in the American Midwest.
For more information, please see the following websites:
Updates and news briefs about the Lao Natasinh Dance Troupe, of Des Moines, Iowa: http://www.iowaartscouncil.org/publications_&_resources/iowa-arts-news/2006/june/iowas-lao-dancers-to-perform-wash-dc.htm