This article links to videos and antique films of Angkor and traditional Cambodian dance presentations. The first two-part video shows contains much rare footage of Cambodian history and the Royal Dancers from the early part of the 20th century.
Part I – Antique video of Angkor Wat and Cambodia (6 minutes)
This opens with Dr. Ang Choulean from the Royal University of Fine Arts talking about traditional Cambodian homes. Next, Prof. Alain Forest of the Universite Paris VII discusses the transition of Cambodians from ancient to modern traditions during the French Colonial era.
While lacking the same natural resources as its neighbor Vietnam, Cambodia had something even more extraordinary and prestigious to share with the modern world; the fabulous cultural legacy of Angkor.
“You were dealing with a set of ruins that could compared with the Temple of Solomon. There was nothing comparable in the world.”
Dr. Choulean and other experts discuss the significance of Angkor Wat and Bayon. By 1921, France had begun temple restoration and Christophe Pottier of EFEO elaborates on this work.
Part II – Antique footage of Cambodian dance (6 minutes)
This segment opens with Dr. Choulean commenting that a pilgrimage to Angkor Wat is the lifetime ambition of every Cambodian.
Next, we see rare film of a troupe of Cambodian dancers performing at Angkor Wat. Cambodian dance is far more than entertainment. According to one Cambodian legend, the race descended from the union of a holy man and a celestial dancer, or apsara.
Prof Eileen Blumenthal of Rutgers University expands on this concept by explaining how Cambodian dancers act as a link between humans and the divine.
In what may be the rarest Cambodian dance footage in the world, the film then takes us to Phnom Penh to witness the King’s troupe practicing at the Royal Palace. As Prof Blumenthal explains, this is extraordinary because literally no one but the dancers and the King would have normally been priviledged enough to see this rehearsal.
The tradition was nearly destroyed by the Khmer Rouge genocide when 90% of the dancers and teachers were killed. The film then takes us to the studio of one brave teacher who survived, Em Theay, as she describes the techniques she uses to teach dancce in traditional forms.
Next we again travel to the Royal Palace to meet Princess Buppha Devi, King Sihamoni’s sister, who was one of the most famous royal dancers in the 1960’s. The Princess explains life for dancers in the Royal Palace long ago.
Em Theay explains the unique nature and the style of the dance costumes, which were actually sewn onto the dancers.
Next we see footage of the Cambodian dancers performing in Marseilles France in 1906. The dancers were a sensation and returned to France again, including in 1931 when France built a replica of Angkor Wat for an International Exhibition.