Monday, June 28, 2010

Apsara dancing

Last weekend I went to a wedding reception, where all kinds of dancers performed, including amateur Apsara, traditional Cambodian dancers. "The Rough Guide to Cambodia" has this to say about Apsara dance:
No visit to Cambodia is complete without at least a quick glimpse of women performing the ancient art of apsara dance, as depicted on the walls of Angkor's temples. Donning glittering silk tunics, sequinned tops (into which they are sewn before each performance to achieve the requisite tight fit) and elaborate golden headdresses, they execute their movements with great deftness and deliberation, knees bent in plie, heels touching the floor first at each step, coy smiles on their faces. Every position has its own particular symbolism - a finger pointing to the sky, for instance, indicates "today", while standing sideways to the audience with the sole of the foot facing upwards represents flying.
In the regin of Jayavarman VII there were over three thousand apsara dancers at court - the dances were performed exclusively for the king - and so prized was their skill that when Thais sacked Angkor in the fifteenth century, they took a troupe of dancers back home with them. Historically, the art form was taught only at the royal court, but so few exponents survived the ravages of the Khmer Rouge that the genre was very nearly extinguished. Subsequently, when Princess Boppha Devi - who had been a principal dancer with the royal troup - wished to revive it, she found it helpful to study temple panels to establish the movements. It was not until 1995, a full sixteen years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, that Cambodians once again witnessed a public performance of apsara dance, at Angkor Wat.
Below is a photo of the amateur Apsara dancers at the wedding reception, in what sounds like the flying position.

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