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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In Context: The Legend of Apsara Mera

Photo: Anders Jiras
The Royal Ballet of Cambodia comes to BAM on Thursday, May 2 with The Legend of Apsara Mera. Context is everything, so get even closer to the costumes, the tradition, and more with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. For those who've already seen the show, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

On the Blog

“Dancing Myths: The Legend of Apsara Mara” (BAM Blog)
“Their legs are bent in a soft plié, fingers curled back from their palms like flower petals.”

"Auguste Rodin and the Royal Ballet of Cambodia"
“I contemplated them in ecstasy,” said the artist about the Cambodian ballet.

Around the Web

Auguste Rodin, Cambodian Dancer, 1906
Graphite and Watercolor 
“Dancing Well Is The Best Revenge” (The New York Times)
Cambodian dance gets its due during the citywide Season of Cambodia festival.

“How Dances Defied Death in Cambodia” (The New York Times)
90 percent of the dancers living in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime were killed. Today, dance thrives.

"Dance of the Gods: Interview with Cambodian Princess Buppha Devi" (
A rich profile of the face of Cambodian dance.

“A Stirring Monument to Immortality” (The Wall Street Journal)
Movements in The Legend of Apsara Mera were partly inspired by this spectacular bas-relief found inside a 12th-century Khmer temple.

“Preserving History: Cambodial Royal Ballet (YouTube)
Princess Buppha Devi is largely responsible for the healthy state of Cambodian dance, which has endured a millennium of cultural change.

A Ceremonial Dance by HRH Princess Buppha Devi (YouTube)
The choreographer of The Legend of Apsara Mera and member of the Cambodian royal family performs a dance to the spirits of former kings.

Season of Cambodia: A Living Arts Festival
Catch more Cambodian cultural offerings during this expansive festival.

National Geographic Megastructures: Angkor Wat (YouTube)
Rising high out of the Cambodian jungle, the five-towered temple Angkor Wat houses famous depictions of “Churning of the Sea of Milk” and other Khmer legends celebrated in The Legend of Apsara Mera.

Apsara (YouTube)
This film, directed by a former Cambodian king and starring the choreographer of The Legend of Apsara Mera, was part of the postwar renaissance of Cambodian ballet. (Scroll to 17:00 for dancing!)

Worthwhile Words

Sculptor Auguste Rodin, after seeing Cambodian dancers perform in the Bois du Boulogne in Paris:
The Cambodians have shown us everything that antiquity could have contained. It is impossible to think of anyone wearing human nature to such perfection; except them and the Greeks.” 

Now Your Turn . . .

So what's your verdict? Once you've seen the show, tell us what you thought in the comments below.


  1. Absolutely lovely.

  2. I'm in love with these beautiful Khmer dancers :-)

  3. Eye candy, but, ear and brain numbing. I liked the idea of this, and visually it was a beautiful set of "stills", but, the choreography was totally repetitive and the music was likewise. It went on for a seeming eternity, which, I guess is how long it takes to found a nation, but, didn't make for a thrilling evening of dance. Perhaps this is an acquired taste.

    However, the costumes were fantastic and the dancers were wonderful - repeating these simple steps flawlessly and, sadly, endlessly.

  4. Very, very beautiful dancing and costumes, it was a special experience. The music and instrumentation were beautiful, too, it was somewhat repetitive because we didn't understand the words of the songs but we understood it was an integral part of the dance. The titles/explanations above the stage were helpful in understanding the dance - some of the songs should have been at least partially translated, too. One criticism: the stage floor has a large white "plus" mark (probably)indicating center stage and this can be seen from the mezzanine and detracts from the "suspension of disbelief". We were very happy to have the opportunity to see Cambodian dancing.

  5. This performance should have taken place in a smaller venue. From the front of the mezz it was impossible to see most of the very subtle gestures and expressions (if there were any), which made for a very, very long evening. Most of the comments we heard on the way out (as well as during the performance) were not positive. It is a good thing that there wasn't an intermission.

  6. I agree with Andy. Gorgeous, but not so engaging.

  7. Graceful, gorgeous costumes, - one has to lose oneself in the repetitive sequences to enjoy it. Moving so gracefully on one leg must take much practice. To an audience which craves thrills and excitement and action it will be difficult to appreciate. For everything there is a time and place. Appreciating differences is the essence of life.

  8. I was engaged the entire time. The amount of discipline and focus it takes to synchronize subtle and slower movements (yet still physically trying movements) is a lot more difficult to do than faster choreography. I love that its a visual experience. I love that its not afraid to take its time. I love that the musicians were on stage. I love the lighting. I thought it was beautiful.

    Perhaps for those who may be expecting all dances to be alike, their should be some literature beforehand about the style of Khmer dance. It's all about taking time and putting everything into each step and hand motion rather than rushing through the music. I also heard the crowd react in very positive ways from where I was sitting. Please have them back next year (or sooner)! And thank you for the show!

  9. The marvelous performance of real apsaras of Royal Ballet of Cambodia moved me almost to tears... I recalled the fantastic time in their fairy tail ancient country who suffered so much in recent history (not just from the Khmer Rouge, as someone trying shamefully convince us now, but also from the previous barbaric bombing under ridiculous pretext of "war on communism"). The outstanding orchestra and chorus remind me unforgettable experience of seeing the amateur performance real victims of mines and bombs right near one of the ancient temple. This performance was enhance by very interesting earlier presentation of costume designer Sylvia Lim and generous reception for the members. Thanks a lot! But I still do not understand why BAM (or just it trade union?) insisted of forbidden to take some photos after end of performance. Check with the Metropolitan and La Scala Opera, with most drama theaters (maybe except Delacort in the Central Park!) - they do not mind if people leave some digital memory for a future. I do not think that any harm was involve after performance is over!

  10. L.N.P

    The performance was amazing! In order to truly appreciate Khmer Royal dance, one has to understand the meaning of each gestures. The Singers are narrating the story. It would be great if the Royal Ballet of Cambodia would come to perform on the west coast such as Los angeles.

  11. Two really excellent readings on Cambodian Ballet are: Cambodian Dancers authored by George Groslier in 1913
    and Earth in Flower authored by Paul Cravath in 1985

  12. The Royal Ballet of Cambodia's production was nothing short of sublime.
    The music was delightful, the choreography captivating, the costumes gorgeous, and the dancers exceptionally accomplished, refined and beautiful.
    The overall effect was surely one of most pure expressions of grace of which humans are capable.
    To my mind Rodin got it right,“The Cambodians have shown us everything that antiquity could have contained. It is impossible to think of anyone wearing human nature to such perfection except them and the Greeks.”

  13. Having recently returned from a trip to Cambodia, I very much enjoyed this performance: the costumes are gorgeous, the ballet hypnotic.
    To BAM staff: please be a little more restrictive on latecomers. The first 15 minutes of the show were constantly disturbed by people trying to sit in the middle of a row, or asking spectators if such or such seat was occupied, etc. Very annoying.

  14. the evening was magical. Yes, it is not of our time or culture, so some may find it difficult. I was fortunately in the orchestra, and even there used binoculars to focus in on the beautiful hand gestures which are so important and eloquent to the performance. So, yes , perhaps a more intimate setting. Also the question/answer colloquium afterwards was badly staged - the interpreter sat sidewards in her chair addressing herself to the moderator, instead of out to us, the audience. It was difficult to follow.


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