PHNOM PENH: Wrists bent and fingers curled, the immaculately dressed dancers perform a series of gestures that, according to ancient custom, carry the wishes of the Khmer kings to the heavens.

Sporting golden head-dresses, the dancers slowly stretch back their wrists and - standing on one leg - perform a set of moves with their hands representing offerings of leaves, flowers and fruit to the gods.

Apsara dance, a classical style of the Angkorian era, nearly vanished in the 1970s under Cambodia's Khmer Rouge communist regime, which exterminated much of the country's heritage along with up to two million people.

But the dance is making a comeback after its unique moves were painstakingly recorded by experts who studied sculptures and wall carvings from Angkor Wat's temples, which are roughly 1,000 years old.

Now it is a common sight at public ceremonies as well as in hotel lobbies in Cambodia's tourist hot-spots such as Siem Reap, home to the Angkor Wat complex, with the dance celebrated once more as part of the kingdom's unique culture.

It is also on a United Nations list preserving the world's “Intangible Heritage”, giving global recognition to the once-threatened art form.

The dancers are picked when they are as young as seven for their aptitude and beauty, but also the flexibility and elegance of their hands.

A fine-arts school in Phnom Penh is training a new generation of dancers and while the exact number is unknown, officials and teachers believe there are now hundreds of young Apsara performers driving its revival. —Photos and texts by AFP

Cambodian students dancing during a rehearsal at the Chaktomuk conference hall in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian students dancing during a rehearsal at the Chaktomuk conference hall in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian students dancing during a rehearsal at the Chaktomuk conference hall in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian students dancing during a rehearsal at the Chaktomuk conference hall in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian students dancing during a rehearsal at the Chaktomuk conference hall in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian students dancing during a rehearsal at the Chaktomuk conference hall in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian student dancing during a rehearsal at the Chaktomuk conference hall in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian student dancing during a rehearsal at the Chaktomuk conference hall in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian Apsara dancers performing during a ceremony at a hotel in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian Apsara dancers performing during a ceremony at a hotel in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian dancers getting ready for a performance at a hotel in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian dancers getting ready for a performance at a hotel in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian Apsara dancers performing during a ceremony at a hotel in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian Apsara dancers performing during a ceremony at a hotel in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian Apsara dancer performing during a ceremony.
Cambodian Apsara dancer performing during a ceremony.
Cambodian Apsara dancer performing during a ceremony.
Cambodian Apsara dancer performing during a ceremony.
Cambodian Apsara dancer performing during a ceremony.
Cambodian Apsara dancer performing during a ceremony.
Cambodian Apsara dancers performing during a ceremony.
Cambodian Apsara dancers performing during a ceremony.
Cambodian dancers performing during a ceremony at the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) headquarters in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian dancers performing during a ceremony at the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) headquarters in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian students practicing at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh
Cambodian students practicing at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh
Cambodian teacher (C) dancing with students during a practice at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian teacher (C) dancing with students during a practice at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh.

Comments (1) Closed




Raj
Mar 28, 2013 01:42pm
All these dances were derived from Hindu cultural influences- temple architecture, script, religion, dance, language etc. all one has to do is look at South Indian temples and classical dancce, Bharata Natyam...