Yesterday I visited the Mekong River section of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. About the Mekong, the Smithsonian says:

The Mekong River in Southeast Asia is a giver of life; countless communities depend on it for their existence. Like these other rivers as well, the Mekong River means more than environmental and economic stability—it has taken on a cultural significance in each of the areas it touches and inspired a dazzling array of ritual, musical, and artistic expressions. The Mekong flows through regions of enormous ethnic and cultural diversity on its journey from the melting glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau, in China’s Qinghai Province, to the Pacific Ocean in southern Vietnam some 3,000 miles away. Traversing Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia, the river passes through steep mountain gorges, daunting rapids, and immense alluvial plains in six nations. Its watershed encompasses 85 percent of Laos and Cambodia, one-third of Thailand, and smaller parts of Vietnam, Myanmar, and China. The music of the more than 60 million people who live in the Mekong basin reflects this vast diversity.

Here is a video I took at the festival. You’ll have to forgive the quality– I am not an experienced videographer and took the footage with my digital camera. By far the most amusing part was the shadow puppetry. Because this is a dance blog, the last half of the video is a performance of the Khmer Robam Dance style.

*Keep reading and see the video after the jump*

Unfortunately, I was not there at the beginning of the performance when they tell you about what you are going to see, but according to wikipedia, this is a traditional dance that was performed at the royal courts. Dancers have a vocabulary of movement that mimes the story that the dance tells. It requires years of rigorous training from a young age to have the flexibility and control to do these movements.

“Hand gestures in Khmer classical dance are called kbach (meaning style). These hand gestures form a sort of alphabet and represent various things from nature such as fruit, flowers, and leaves. They are used in different combinations, sometimes with accompanying foot movements, to convey different thoughts and concepts. The way in which they are presented along with the arm and the position they are held with the arm can also affect their meaning. Besides hand gestures are gestures which are more specific to their meaning, such as that which is used to represent laughing or flying. These other gestures are performed in different manners depending on which type of character is played.”