Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Siem Reap: Apsara Dancers

One evening in Siem Reap we did the tourist thing and went out for dinner and a show. Giant dinner theater, huge buffet, teeming masses - you know the drill. Though we were understandably exhausted after a long day of touring, I'm glad we went: the dancing was fascinating, not least for the stark contrast between the glacial formality of the apsara dance and the up-tempo humor of the peasant dances.

The apsara dance, Cambodia's classical dance style, is based on the poses of the apsara carvings found in the ancient Khmer temples. As a formal dance discipline, it's actually pretty recent, codified by a Cambodian princess in the mid-20th century, though it's based on traditions that are much older than that.

Some of the dances tell stories from Hindu mythology. This one seems to involve some kind of monkey-demon falling in love with an apsara.

The apsara dances were interesting, but on the whole I preferred the peasant dances. Like many peasant dances from around the world, these numbers were all about thinly-veiled flirtation, spun around the stylized motions of everyday life. 

In one dance, for example, a mixed group of young men and young women are at work catching fish and crabs in a rice paddy. A central pair seem to take a particular fancy to one another, and spend the rest of the dance trying to get some time alone. They eventually succeed, and a universally identifiable marriage proposal ensues. All done with tons of energy and superb comic timing. Funny stuff - but a little too quick to catch on camera in such low light. 

The shots below are from a different dance - a percussive number involving coconuts.

After the show, guests were invited onto the stage to take a photo with the dancers. After the initial bull rush of Chinese and Korean tour groups subsided, Nana made her way to the stage with a second wave of Aussies and Japanese.

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