The ancient Cambodian ballet: Southeast Asia’s most esoteric female performing art.
A wartime twist of fate made Paul Cravath one of the only Westerners in history to gain full access to the formerly sequestered troupe of the Royal Cambodian Ballet. In 1975 he interviewed royal dancers and teachers and gained full access to their theater and archives. Then, war and genocide nearly obliterated the thousand year old tradition.
Over the ages, Cambodia’s sacred dancers have been goddesses, priestesses, queens, concubines, hostages and diplomats. Cravath’s award-winning book Earth in Flower, reveals the complete details of their tradition for the first time. This multilingual newscast from Supreme Master TV documents the book and its awards:
Earth in Flower is dedicated to Her Royal Highness, Princess Buppha Devi, the living embodiment of Cambodia’s ancient royal dance tradition. In the video below, the princess performs a dance of offering for Cambodia’s former kings before her grandmother, Queen Sisowath Kossamak Nearirath.Cambodian Dance Book Awards on Supreme Master TV
This ritual offering in the Royal Palace is especially significant because it marked the occasion of Queen Kossamak passing responsibility for the unbroken royal tradition to her granddaughter.
With the special permission of Queen Kossamak in 1961-62, a USIS film crew in Cambodia captured this sacred ritual and other performances. The film disappeared for decades only to reemerge from the US National Archives late in 2008.
In presenting her credentials to Cambodia, the the new US Ambassador Carol Rodley presented His Majesty King Sihamoni with a digital copy of the entire original film showing these historic Cambodian dance performances. This documentary of the Royal Cambodian Ballet is now available in DVD form on Amazon.com.
The DVD first features the troupe performing a dance about the legendary origins of Angkor; it then covers a visit to the school of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh with scenes showing dance instruction of boys and girls, a dress rehearsal, costume design, and mask-making. Finally, the DVD contains footage of the school’s graduation ceremonies, including a presentation of novices to the school’s patron Queen Kossmak. The conclusion is the solo dance by Princess Norodom Buppha Devi featured in the clip above.
In 2009, Princess Buppha Devi made her first official visit to the only school of dance in music in Cambodia under her royal patronage. Cambodia’s royal tradition now continues and individual donors are invited to sponsor dancers and musicians at the NKFC dance school to maintain this sacred legacy.