Photographer's Note

Apsaras are an embodiment of the ideal female beauty in Cambodian culture. Both modern and ancient Khmer artists rendered them elaborately and with great emotional intensity.

The ancient pictorial narrative traditions and dancers depicted on stone reliefs serve as a source of artistic inspiration and reinvention for both modern Khmer dancers and puppeteers. Moreover, the significant role of dance as ritual and material offerings to the gods continues to be visible in contemporary Cambodia.

Images of dance and drama are found both on bas reliefs and in free standing sculpture from ancient Cambodian temples. Unfortunately, we know very little about the meanings and gestures of dance in ancient Cambodia. While a Sanskrit dance treatise, the Natyasastra, sheds light on ancient dance in India, no such text has survived in Cambodia. Moreover, ancient inscriptions written in both Sanskrit and Khmer (Cambodian language) on stone stele reveal little about the nuances of ancient dance and drama. We do, however, know that dance, drama, and music were performed as ritual offerings to the gods and ancestors. A 7th-century Sanskrit inscription mentions the donation of dancers as part of a ritual and material offering to a temple. Another inscription dating from the 9th century tells us that King Yashovarman I (889-ca. 900 AD) learned music and dance. We also know that King Jayavarman VII (1181- ca.1218 AD) donated thousands of dancers to the temples of Preah Khan and Ta Prohm.

The scarcity of written sources makes it very difficult to establish a historical link between ancient and contemporary dance. While the legacy of dance was transmitted orally and bodily, what the classical Cambodian Court Dancers perform today is often a modern reinvention. A case in point is the Apsara dance (Robam Apsara) performance which I witnessed.

The ornate costumes, crowns, and jewelry worn by contemporary Cambodian dancers appear to be direct copies of those of the dancers depicted on these bas reliefs. The resemblance is so close that one can easily imagine that these contemporary dancers emerged from the static stone reliefs to set the world in motion. Not surprisingly, most of the movements in the apsara dance (and other dances included in the current repertoire) mirror the poses represented in ancient sculptures. It is possible that the frontal focus, the contorted movement of bodies, and the flexible hand gestures seen in contemporary Cambodian dance are derived from and inspired by the different poses depicted on Angkorian stone reliefs.
Source :

F Length = 93 mm
ISO = 200
Hand Held

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Additional Photos by Angshuman Chatterjee (Angshu) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 7851 W: 324 N: 16060] (56760)
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