The origins of Khmer classical dance in the style seen today are disputed. Cambodian scholars, such as Pech Tum Kravel, and French scholar George Groslier have claimed Khmer classical dance as a tradition maintained since the Angkor period. Other scholars theorize that Khmer classical dance, as seen today, developed from, or was at least highly influenced by, Siamese classical dance innovations during the 19th century and precedent forms of Cambodian dance were different from the present form. According to James R. Brandon, the lakhon nai of Siam was the main influence on Cambodian court dance in the 1800s. Martin Banham also mentions performers from Thailand were brought to restructure the dance tradition for the royal court of Cambodia during the same period. Indeed, there were Siamese performers in the royal court of Cambodia during the 19th century according to most renown sources on the royal ballet, Groslier included; this suggests a strong connection to the court dances of Siam and its influences. Sasagawa mentions Groslier's acknowledgement of Siamese performers in the royal dance troupe and also mentions Norodom Sihanouk claim that the Siamese 'taught Cambodia its lost art form which they had preserved after sacking Angkor,' however, Sasagawa notes that the Siamese innovations (such as the story of Inao, an adaptation of the Malay version of Panji ) were not present in the Angkorian dance tradition.
Angkor and Pre-Angkor Era
One of the earliest records of dance in Cambodia is from the 7th century, where performances were used as a funeral rite for kings. In the 20th century, the use of dancers is also attested in funerary processions, such as that for King Sisowath Monivong. During the Angkor period, dance was ritually performed at temples. The temple dancers came to be considered as apsaras, who served as entertainers and messengers to divinities. Ancient stone inscriptions, describe thousands of apsara dancers assigned to temples and performing divine rites as well as for the public. The tradition of temple dancers declined during the 15th century, as the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya raided Angkor. When Angkor fell, its artisans, Brahmins, and dancers were taken captive to Ayutthaya.
In the 19th century, King Ang Duong, who had spent 27 years as a captive prince in the Siamese court in Bangkok (i.e. the Grand Palace), restructured his royal court in Cambodia with Siamese innovations from the Rattanakosin period. Court dancers under the patronage of the royal court of Siam were sent to the royal court in Cambodia during this period.
French Colonial Era
Dancers of the court of King Sisowath were exhibited at the 1906 Colonial Exposition in Marseilles at the suggestion of George Bois, a French representative in the Cambodian court. Auguste Rodin was captivated by the Cambodian dancers and painted a series of water colors of the dancers.
Queen Sisowath Kossamak became a patron of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. Under the Queen's guidance, several reforms were made to the royal ballet, including choreography. Dance dramas were dramatically shortened from all-night spectacles to about 1 hour length. Prince Norodom Sihanouk featured the dances of the royal ballet in his films.
The dance tradition received a detriment during the Khmer Rouge regime during which many dancers were put to death in the genocide. Although 90 percent of all Cambodian classical artists perished between 1975 and 1979 after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, those who did survive wandered out from hiding, found one another, and formed "colonies" in order to revive their sacred traditions. Khmer classical dance training was resurrected in the refugee camps in eastern Thailand with the few surviving Khmer dancers. Many dances and dance dramas were also recreated at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Cambodia.
In 2003 it was inducted into the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
Read more about this topic: Royal Ballet Of Cambodia
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