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Ancient Art of Cambodian Shadow Puppetry Coming to Battery Park City

BATTERY PARK CITY — With giant leather puppets, a troupe of Cambodian artists are bringing a sacred tale of gods, princes — and monkeys — to Battery Park City next week.

The master puppeteers, dancers and musicians of Cambodia's acclaimed shadow puppet troupe Wat Bo will transform Brookfield Place’s Winter Garden into a theater for the ancient art of Sbek Thom, a form of shadow puppetry that features massive, intricately carved panels, gracefully manipulated against a lit screen.

The art form, nearly wiped out under the country's oppressive Khmer Rouge regime, has seen a revival in recent years, according to Arts Brookfield, which commissioned the performances.

For four nights, the performers will re-create the story of "Sor Neakabas," translated as "The Magical Arrowhead Dragon," a tale from the "Reamker," Cambodia’s beloved version of the ancient Indian epic "Ramayana".

The shows will be accompanied by a full Pin Peat ensemble — a traditional orchestra consisting of wind instruments, xylophones and drums.

The rare U.S. Sbek Thom performances are some of the only free events offered during the Season of Cambodia festival, a celebration of the country’s arts and culture that’s bringing works by more than 125 Cambodian artists to 30 major venues throughout the city in April and May.

"Cambodian shadow puppetry is a breathtakingly beautiful art form that evokes the sacred origins of theater, and we're honored to introduce New York audiences to one of the genre's most celebrated troupes," said Debra Simon, vice president of Arts Brookfield, in a statement.

"Exemplifying Cambodia's artistic resurgence after the oppression of the Khmer Rouge, this performance is a testament to the strength of a remarkable nation, culture, and community of artists."

The Wat Bo troupe will perform at Brookfield Place Winter Garden, 220 Vesey St., April 25-28. Shows are free.