Photos courtesy of Thomy Keats.
The last time the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, a troupe of classical Cambodian dancers who had almost been eliminated by the Khmer Rouge regime, had been in Long Beach was in September of 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
Princess Buppha Devi (“Goddess of Flowers”) was solicited to bring her troupe at the time to alleviate the sadness that had overcome Americans and now, Her Royal Highness has had her troupe return to the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach to show off her latest choreography.
Though Devi will not be touring this time around, Her Royal Highness has choreographed a classical Cambodian dance that was inspired by her grandmother, Queen Kossamak Nearyrath.
“Like the Queen Kossamak, the Princess has dedicated her life to dance and the arts,” said Prince Sisowath Tesso, cousin and assistant to choreographer Devi. “She went to the Thai border during the resistance to try to find dancers who survived and, with them, she created dance school for refugees.”
Princess Buppha Devi’s work did not stop after that: after the UN election, she returned to Cambodia to in 1991 to create the University of Fine Arts, using funds from varying countries—including Japan—to build classrooms. This came after the many dancers and teachers of the classical dance form were annihilated during the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Dancers, honoring and sustaining a tradition that spans over a thousand years, were associated with everything the regime stood against: independence, enlightenment, and tradition.
“Essentially, Her Royal Highness single-handedly revived the Royal Ballet and organized the troupe’s first trips, which were in Europe,” Tesso said. “Now the Royal Ballet can perform more often in many countries like Monaco, Morocco, Barhein, Italy, Portugal—and most recently, she presented Apsara Mera in New York during their Season of Cambodia.”
The Princess’s work did not go unnoticed, as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) deemed the Royal Ballet of Cambodia as part of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” in 2003. Differing from Western ballet, which focuses on foot positioning and seamless movement, classical Khmer ballet focuses heavily on hand gestures—some 4,500 gestures are thought to exist—and slow movements, along with four characters (Neang the woman, Neayrong the man, Yeak the giant, and Sva the monkey) to tell a story provided by a female chorus.
According to to Tesso, the Princess has selected the best musicians and singers to interpret traditional Mohori songs along with dancers that have been personally trained by the Princess Herself.
“The Stars of the Royal Ballet” will be presented October 18 at 8PM at The Carpenter Performing Arts Center at CSULB in Long Beach. Tickets are $29, $39, and $49. Senior, student, and group rates are also available. For more information and tickets, visit www.royalballetlongbeach.com, or contact the Carpenter Center Ticket Office at 562-985-7000.