by Tom Weber – © 2009 Post-Bulletin
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ST. CHARLES, MN — For Paul Cravath, Cambodia conjures up images of beauty and death.
Cravath, a native of Chatfield, arrived in Cambodia in 1975 to conduct research on traditional Cambodian dance theater. What he and no one else knew at the time was that within weeks the war would begin that was later the subject of the film, “The Killing Fields,”
Despite the war and death raging around him, he was able to spend months documenting and preserving the history of this artform, and has now published his research about Cambodian dance drama in the book, “Earth in Flower.”
“I arrived 11 days after the siege of the city (Phnom Penh) started,” Cravath recalled. He was one of the few westerners in the city, and managed to escape, with his research materials, before the Khmer Rouge genocide began on April 17, 1975.
Cravath graduated from Chosen Valley High School in 1962 and from Luther College in 1966. He went to India as a Fulbright tutor, spent some time in Tokyo, and along the way became interested in Asian theater traditions.
“I had never taken a theater or drama class,” he said. But after earning a master of fine arts degree from Tulane University, Cravath went to the University of Hawaii to study Asian theater. While he was a graduate student in Hawaii, he had the opportunity to go to Cambodia and observe, first-hand, not only the royal dance company and training school, but also the violence of a country torn by a vicious war.
These days, Cambodia has been out of the news almost as long as Cravath’s dissertation languished before being published.
“I’m really glad the book is published, because it was a doctoral dissertation that lived under my bed for 20 years,” said Cravath, who will give a presentation about Cambodian dance drama tonight in St. Charles.
The book, which is intended primarily as a scholarly reference, is regarded as the major English-language source on Cambodian dance.
“In my talk, I’ll talk about the book and how it was written, being in Cambodia in 1975, and I’ll talk about the artform itself, what it looks like,” he said.
Cravath has been a professor of drama at Leeward Community College in Honolulu for 20 years. He returns each year to southeastern Minnesota to visit family and enjoy the summer weather.
“Minnesota in the summer is very, very beautiful,” he said. “I can’t come in the winter because I’m teaching — and it’s so cold here.”
For more information please visit EarthInFlower.com.
Cambodian Dance Blossoms in Earth in Flower by Paul Cravath