Royal Ballet of Cambodia—Photographic Exhibition
Sacred Cambodian Dance
Characterized by striking costumes, graceful gestures and refined spirituality, classical dance has long roots in the cultural tradition of Cambodia. It was once believed that the dancers of the Royal Ballet—almost always female—were intercessors between the King and the realm of the deities. Drawing on over a millennium of tradition, these performances have endured through much of Cambodian history and even survived the Khmer Rouge period, which saw the deaths of many master dancers and musicians. Classical dance remains a significant and popular aspect of Cambodian culture.
Friends of Khmer Culture was pleased to collaborate with the National Museum of Cambodia to highlight Khmer dance with an exhibition showcasing the traditional objects and contemporary performances of the Royal Ballet. The exhibition also celebrated the seventh anniversary of UNESCO’s 2003 declaration of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
In keeping with UNESCO’s aims to underline the expressive value of Khmer classical dance as a living cultural tradition, the exhibition comprised photographs of contemporary performances taken by Swedish photographer Anders Jiras (a specialist in Cambodian dance photography who now lives in Cambodia) as well as photographs of prominent figures from the early 20th century alongside typical musical instruments and costume. The exhibition also included a performance video featuring Princess Norodom Buppha Devi; the Princess and her grandmother Queen Kossamak were a dynamic and creative force in expanding the dance repertoire of the Ballet during the 1940s and 50s.
The first of its kind for the Cambodian public and for the Museum itself, which had never previously shown photography, the exhibition aimed to improve local knowledge of the Royal Ballet tradition and promote this Cambodian treasure more globally to ensure its preservation. Since the exhibition proved to be hugely popular both locally and with international visitors, attracting thousands of visitors, the Museum extended it, keeping the photographs on display until the next exhibition later in the year.