Apsara Dance Cambodia Culture and Civilization
National treasure and the heart of classical dance
Cambodian Dance is an important form of art and culture to mark the national identity and the soul of the nation. The Cambodian dancing is divided into three main categories classical dances performed during specific ceremonies in the royal palace, popular dances performed to highlight the daily lives of the people,and traditional dances performed in various ceremonies in order for social reflection. The mixed-up dances are performed to attract tourists who are interested in Cambodian art. Khmer classical dances and songs are embedded in the Cambodian people's minds and hearts.
Khmer classical dances, also known as the Robam Preah Reach Trop (របាំព្រះរាជទ្រព្យ Royal Dance) , are a form of the Cambodia dance originally performed only for the king, but now also for dignitaries and the public during official ceremonies and other festivals. The important classical dances include the Robam Apsara (របាំអប្សារា) , Rabam Tep Monorom (របាំទេព្យមនោរម្យ) , Sovann Machha (សុវណ្ណមច្ឆា) , Moni Mekhala (មុន្នីមេខលា) and Rabam Kngork ( Peacock Dance របាំក្ងោក). These play a pivotal role in the Khmer literature. Amongst these dances, Apsara Dance is the most important dance for Khmer culture and the national heritage, which has been inherited by Khmer ancestors. Even though male and female dancers have been changed from one generation to another, the techniques of the dancing remain the same.
History of the Apsara Dance
The Apsara Dance was created by Samdech Preah Kannitha Norodom Rasmei Sophoan, who was a sister of King Norodom Soramorith. It was created to perform during the awarding ceremony for the most outstanding students taken place requlary by the end of the year. The Princess instructed the dance in 1958, and it was performed by Princess Norodom Vichara, who was a daughter of King Norodom Soramorith. A year later, instructed by Ms. Chea Sami, Princess Socheath Vatiya, the daughter of the former King Norodom Sihanouk performed the Apsara Dance.
The Apsara Dance earned the excellence and was first performed in Siem Reap province ( where Angkor Wat is located ) and was also filmed by Mr. Marcel Camis during 1961 or 1962. In 1963, it was performed in France. In 1964, it was performed in Singapore during the inauguration of the World Art Festival and the performance was very successful and was well supported by the audience. Norodom Bopha Devi, a daughter of former King Norodom Sihanouk was the main performer and also the first royal ballerina.
According to its meaning and history, Apsara Dance is one of two major forms of Khmer dancing. It was an incorporation of some parts of the traditional and popular dances, which were deepened in animism and primitive magic, and it has a form of Hinduism introduced during the time of Indian influence in the beginning of the 1st century.
Classical dance contains a separate form. During the reign of King Jayavarman II to VII, the dance was included with additional movements and meanings, During the 13th century, unlike the forms of other dances in the world, mode of Apsara dance was more favourable to Khmer than Indian. Apsara dance is the heart of classical form, and the images of the dancers smiley faces are everywhere. The graceful movements of the Apsara dancers, adorned with golden headdresses and silken tunics and skirts, are carved on many walls of Angkor Wat temple there were estimated 3,000 Apsara dancers performing in the court of King Jayavaraman VII in the 12th-century.
Over the centuries Khmer dancing influenced the classical ballets of the neighbouring countries, and some of its postures and movements are similar to other Southeast Asian dancing forms. A Prinesss Bopha Devi said "The Kingdom of Khmer has possessed such traditions since the 8th century, 500 years prior to that of Thailand."
Many of the dances are related to a series of a story of Ramayana, which was ancient Indian epic. The other dances are based on the Legendary battles and mythical sagas carved on the walls of Angkor Wat temple, including the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, the great battle between the Gods and demons to get the holy water that gave immortality. For the Khmer dance, there are four main performers: male and female performers, giant and monkey. The first three performers are women, and the role of the monkey is performed by men. In the ancient time, it is believed that all dancers were only females. Today, the Royal Dance is performed by mostly women.
Cambodian scholars, such as Pech Tum Kravel, and French archaeologist George Grosiler mentioned that Khmer classical dance is proof to show the culture of solidarity and unity within the Angkor period. Thus, Khmer people and the royal government considers the Royal Ballet as special and national treasure. In 2003, UNESCO named the Apsara dance a "Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity".