Monday, November 01, 2010

Cambodian Dance (among others)

A couple weeks ago I went with some friends to Singapore's Esplanade, a theatre and arts complex in center city, by the river. They were just finishing up a festival of dance (called 'Da:ns') and were particularly highlighting cultural dances from across Asia. We weren't able to go for all the dance events (click on the link above to visit the page that describes everything that was going on), but you can see we got to watch Japanese and Cambodian dancing. And true to Singaporean form, also got to participate in the western pastime of line-dancing.

The Japanese dance was very formal and structured, and we got to see three different dances - one with the fan that is the story of a beautiful maiden expressing her love for a visiting general with her precision and graceful movement. Then the men's dance which tells the story of men preparing themselves for war. The last one we saw is the story of a high-class woman who hardly ever has the chance to go out of the house - when at last she is allowed to go for a walk, she makes the most of it, playing and having fun.

The Cambodian dance was also quite formal but in a different way. The proper posture for these classically trained dancers is a curved back while they make precise, sculptural movements. It takes incredible control to keep those postures as they move slowly and carefully. They performed the story of Machhanup, which is unique to the Khmer version of the Ramayana and has been performed for over 1,000 years. I was reminded again how ancient some Asian cultures are.

Macchanup is the story of a great warrior who is the son of the monkey king and the mermaid queen. The monkeys built a stone bridge to the island of the giants so they could make war on them, but the mermaid queen didn't want the bridge across her land, so had her servants remove the stones. The monkeys were angry and jumped in to fight the servants, followed by their king who fell in love with the mermaid queen, resulting in Machhanup.

The rest of the story talks about how Machhanup grew up not knowing his father and became a great warrior, trained by a mighty giant. He ends up fighting his father until the mermaid queen tells them the truth of their relationship. The dance was performed by Apsara Arts Association, and I look forward to seeing more performances from them if I can make it to Cambodia or if they come back to Singapore.

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