Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cambodian Apsara Dance

I know some people who have a 'bucket list' (a list of things they want to accomplish before they kick the bucket).  I don't have one, per se, but every year we come to Cambodia, I keep saying I want to go to the Landmine Museum and also see an Apsara Dance performance.  Somehow we always manage to run out of time before we head for home, and we never get to fit them in. 

I secretly think the reason we've put off these activities is because we try to avoid places frequented by tourists.  They tend to be over-crowded, and quite frankly, some tourists are downright pushy and rude.   But at long last, this year we delisted those two items.  You can read all about our trip to the Landmine Museum in my previous blog post. It was on that occasion, coincidentally, that we finally met Richard Fitoussi (yet another thing  that's been on my to-do list).  It's quite possible we'd still be waiting to go to an Apsara Dance performance, except for an invitation to join in a birthday celebration for John, one of our volunteers.  The $6.00 price tag included an all-you-can-eat buffet, Apsara Dance performance, plus taxi pick-up and drop-off at our guesthouse.  What a deal! 

Apsara Dance is probably not very well known around the world.  There is a very good (albeit lengthy) description of Cambodian Apsara Dance at this
website, and to steal a quote from their page: "Apsara dance has a grounded, subtle, even restrained, yet feather-light, ethereal appearance.  Disinct in its ornate costuming, taut posture, arched back and feet, fingers flexed backwards, codified facial expressions, slow, close, deliberate but flowing movements..."  Quite frankly, I think it's one of the most beautiful, precise, graceful dance performances I've ever witnessed. 

Apsara Dancers, beautifully and elaborately costumed
The dancers perform in unison, in apparent slow-motion.
It takes years of practice and precision

Notice the exaggerated arched toes and fingers flexed backwards

Live music with traditional Cambodian instruments

Arched back and flexed fingers
are typical of Apsara Dance

Costumes are exquisite and highly adorned
Thick wrist and ankle bracelets,
Heavy ornate headdresses with added hairpieces

Facial expressions are restrained
giving the dancers an ethereal quality
This one-legged stance is held for great lengths of time

The costumes and headresses of the dancers
 who are behind the 'lead dancer' are not as decorated.

Some of the children from Honour Village are learning Apsara Dance and several other traditional Cambodian folk dances.   On December 25, at the Christmas party, which I blogged about here, they put on a beautiful dance demonstration,

Sweet girls dancing with blossom-coverd stems
This 12 year old boy has exceptional flexibility
 in his hands and feet
Boys and girls dancing
Deep knee bends are part of the dance,
difficult to do in slow motion

Charming folk dance done with coconut shells
that are 'clicked' together
Backward flexibility in the fingers
The children purposely bend their fingers back from a very young age
to get them to take this shape. 

Several restaurants in Siem Reap feature an 'Apsara Show' with dinner.  This restaurant definitely catered to tourists and probably seated  500!  (Not exactly an intimate atmosphere).  The evening was a harsh remiinder of why I avoid touristy places....Pushing and shoving in line at the buffet, bllocking everyone's view by standing close to the stage with video cameras, running up on stage to have pictures taken with the performers after the show..

While we were eating, I heard music and saw something out of the corner of my eye.  Unfortunately, there hadn't been any announcement that the show was beginning, and I was too busy filling my face didn't look up right away.  (I'm not sure why I assumed there would be food first, then the performance).  As a result, I missed a good deal of it.  I guess now I have a good excuse to go back.   

And the birthday boy?  I'm pretty sure he enjoyed himself.... A lot.  Out in the parking lot after the performance, he was still trying to get the moves right for the Apsara Dance.....

Happy Birthday, John!



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