BANGKOK - A Singapore fengshui master has been barred from Cambodia after he was rebuked by Prime Minister Hun Sen for showing disrespect during a Cambodian classical dance performance.
Speaking at a Phnom Penh arts festival on Tuesday (March 3), Mr Hun Sen said the fengshui master had turned his back on the dancers from Cambodia's Royal Ballet during a performance in Singapore.
The traditional dance is never performed behind the back of another person, he said.
Mr Hun Sen did not name the fengshui master but Cambodian media identified him as Mr Cheah Fah Loong, better known as Master Yun behind the Lotus on Water fengshui gallery chain.
The company has denied showing any disrespect, saying that it had in fact spent considerable sums of money promoting Cambodian classical dance overseas since 2017.
"I have always respected Mr Hun Sen and his government, for being strong to hold the people together and to establish good relationships with Singapore and China," Lotus on Water executive director Kan Ying Loong told The Straits Times. "I hope he will investigate the situation vigilantly so as to never allow people who give misinformation to destroy the bridges of trust he has built so far."
The performance at the centre of the controversy took place on Feb 9 during the company's Chinese New Year celebrations at its gallery in Upper Thomson. As part of a five-hour extravaganza that featured Chinese opera singers, lion dancers and stilt walkers, a troupe from Cambodia performed a traditional Khmer dance, said Mr Kan.
In photographs that the gallery uploaded on its Facebook account, Master Yun is conducting a prayer ritual with his back turned on the dancers, who are performing on a red carpet under a canopy. Some other photographs show the dancers in a kneeling position behind him.
"This is so degrading to our culture," said Mr Hun Sen on Tuesday. "I cannot accept how they have discredited our ancestral heritage, especially the Royal Ballet."
"This Singaporean has disparaged the royal family," the prime minister added. "What he did was a grave attack on the monarchy."
He said he would only rescind the ban on the fengshui master if he apologised to the Cambodian government and king.
Cambodia's government spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached for comment. ST has also contacted Cambodia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for comment.
Lotus on Water's Mr Kan said the pictures were taken out of context, as Master Yun conducted his prayer ritual briefly during the dance.
Among the special guests at the event was Cambodian Prince Sisowath Tesso, a cousin of King Norodom Sihamoni.
Mr Kan said the dance was choreographed by two Cambodian professional dance teachers and Prince Tesso, who himself was a dancer and former private secretary to the Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, a renowned practitioner and promoter of Cambodia's royal ballet, who died in November last year.
Mr Kan said his company fully sponsored the troupe's Singapore outing, including their stay at Carlton Hotel. Lotus on Water says that since 2017, it has spent some $500,000 promoting Cambodian classical dance and culture outside of the Kingdom, including by sponsoring performances in Spain, the Netherlands and Singapore.
In January, Master Yun hosted a special dinner in Phnom Penh to honour the late princess, which was attended by members of the Cambodian royal family, the Khmer Times reported.
Shortly after Mr Hun Sen's tirade on Tuesday, Cambodia's Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts issued a statement urging groups organising classical dance performances overseas to consult with the ministry beforehand.
"Traditionally, in Cambodia, classical dance is a sacred dance, performed for gods, deities and kings," Ms Chankethya Chey, a dance choreographer in Cambodia's Royal University of Fine Arts, told ST. "They directly communicate with one another and have to face each other."
In Khmer tradition, she said, turning your back on someone is considered a sign of disrespect.