Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Khmer Dance

Dance Blur

While in Siem Reap, we went to see a traditional Khmer dancing group.  We had seen dancing in Bali, and while both were accompanied by a gamelon orchestra, they were quite different, both visually and musically. 

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The music was much more melodic, and less dissonant than the Balinese gamelan, and it didn’t have the same percussive, multi-rhythmic beat notes of the gamelans in Bali.

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As with the Balinese dance, these were also story-based, and the form and style changed with each dance, but in general, the motion in the Khmer dance is quite slow, with extended, graceful gestures, and very deliberate foot placement.

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There were some exceptions; the male dancers, including these boys dressed in monkey costumes, often whirled around the floor, leaping and lunging.  The folk dances were also more rapid, though still very fluid.

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There was a range of ages among the dancers; some were quite young, but were clearly skilled.

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We’d chosen a a dance and dinner combination.  The dinner was buffet style, with many choices of local dishes, which was an excellent way to sample a little of everything.  There was a little unplanned excitement when one of the gas burners at the amok station ran, well, amok, and launched the fish amok steamer into the air with a bang and a sizeable fireball.  Fortunately, the man tending that station wasn’t burned, and he soon had everything under control, though they were down to two out of their three amok dishes.  The dancers never broke stride, though they certainly had their eyes askance. 

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For the most part, the dancers maintained a fairly fixed, but pleasant facial expression (unlike the wild facial gestures in the Balinese dance we saw).  However, during this fishing/courtship folk dance, they appeared to be genuinely enjoying themselves.

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After the final dance concluded, and the entire troupe came out on stage, they asked if anyone from the audience wanted to come up to have their photo taken.  There was a long moment of silence, and two of the older dancers started exchanging pained glances.  Lana felt so bad that she jumped up.  Everyone—dancers and audience—seemed relieved.  The dancers showed her how to position her arms to be a real apsara dancer, and made sure David got a photo.

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It was a fun night, and we enjoyed the food, the dancing, and the atmosphere (the hotel where the show was held was beautiful in and of itself).  We loved seeing the range of ages that the troupe consisted of, from the youngest dancer to a singer in the gamelon orchestra who was probably in her 70s or 80s. It truly felt like the traditions were being passed down through the generations, after having been nearly lost.