Former Royal Ballet dancer, teacher dies at age 78

Sin Samadeukcho with a student at Royal University of Fine Arts. Photo supplied
Sin Samadeukcho with a student at Royal University of Fine Arts. Photo supplied

Former Royal Ballet dancer, singer and teacher Sin Samadeukcho passed away on Friday at her home in the capital’s Daun Penh district at 78 years old, her daughter confirmed.

The daughter of Royal Ballet master Dok Por, Samadeukcho made her debut at the age of 14. Pleased with her performances, King Norodom Sihanouk soon made her a part of his diplomatic entourage, performing as part of the Royal Ballet on state visits to Europe and other Asian countries.

In the 1960s she gained fame for her portrayal as a soldier monkey in Cambodian classical ballet and the masked dance Lakhon Khol. She also famously performed alongside the legendary Sinn Sisamouth when he was a traditional singer in the Royal Ballet. She took up teaching classical dance at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) when she was 34 years old, just prior to the fall of the Khmer Republic.

Unlike many traditional artists from the same generation, Samadeukcho survived the subsequent Khmer Rouge regime’s purges of artists and intellectuals, though she lost her husband Tan Bunheng.

She resumed her teaching at RUFA soon after the regime’s ouster, leading courses in dance as well as Lakhon Khol. After retiring from the university, she continued to teach privately at her home until she was bedridden three years ago due to osteoporosis.

In an interview with The Post in 2014, she said she wished she could continue to pass knowledge of Khmer classical dance and song to future generations.

“I am now too weak and my voice is no longer beautiful,” she said. “Only the young generations could save these arts; otherwise, the other nations would claim them as their own and we would lose a part of our identity.”

Her only daughter, Tan Malita, a librarian at the National Library, confirmed her mother’s death on Friday, saying she was “grief-stricken”.

According to Malita, the family had spent “almost everything” on local medical care with little improvement, noting that unlike the wealthy, they could not afford to bring Samadeukcho to another country for treatment.

Additional reporting by Rinith Taing