With Classical Dancer’s Death, Loss of a Cambodian Legend

Yet Sarin, a star dancer of Cambodia’s classical male masked dance lakhaon kaol, died on Saturday at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital after a long illness. He was 91. He had fought hepatitis for a year, his wife Bin Van, 50, said on Monday.

Born in 1925, Yet Sarin trained in Kandal province at Wat Svay Andet, which was renowned for its lakhaon kaol dance tradition, said Kang Rithisal, executive director of dance company Amrita Performing Arts.

Lok Ta Sar attends a lakhaon kaol performance at the Secondary School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh last July. (Big K Production)

“In the 1960s, when Queen Sisowath Kossamak, the mother of King Norodom Sihanouk, made a national decision to include male dancers for the monkey role in Cambodia’s [female] classical dance…Yet Sarin was the first to perform the white monkey role with the Royal Ballet,” he said.

“That’s why he was better known by students and people in the performing arts community as ‘Lok Ta Sar,’ which means ‘Grandfather White.’”

During the Khmer Rouge era of the mid-1970s, Lok Ta Sar was slated to be killed several times. But each time it was about to happen, the Khmer Rouge would move him to a new location, postponing his execution, he told Mr. Rithisal a few years ago. And when it seemed he was finally certain to be killed, he was saved by the arrival of the Vietnamese army along with a Cambodian contingent in early 1979.

In the 1980s, Lok Ta Sar was among the few artists who had survived the Pol Pot regime and who went about relaunching the School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. “He dedicated his whole life, energy and knowledge to training the younger generations,” Culture Minister Phoeung Sakona said on Monday.

Even after he retired, he never stopped sharing his knowledge.

As recently as a few months ago, an Amrita lakhaon kaol dancer went to see Lok Ta Sar for advice, Mr. Rithisal said. “The man was very ill but, still sitting in his chair, shared his directorial perspective.”

Lok Ta Sar’s cremation took place on Monday. The seven-day funeral ceremony, set to be held on Thursday, will take place at his Phnom Penh home in Sen Sok district’s Phnom Penh Thmei commune, said Yet Sarin’s wife, Ms. Van.

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