The Royal Ballet of Cambodia Returns to the Carpenter Performing Arts Center

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For the first time in many years, the Royal Ballet of Cambodia returns to the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at CSULB with a program entitled “The Stars of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.” The October 18, 8 p.m. performance will feature an intimate ensemble of the best dancers and musicians in the centuries-old tradition of Khmer Classical Dance. With choreography by Her Royal Highness Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, inspired by her grandmother Queen Kossamak Nearyrath, the program will include selections highlighting the exquisite grace and austere beauty of this sacred art form, cherished as the emblem of Khmer culture.

The Royal Ballet’s visit to Long Beach is part of a six week tour of the US and Mexico which follows a decade of resurgence, from the designation by UNESCO of the Royal Ballet as “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” in 2003 and culminating in a major appearance at the “Season of Cambodia” festival in New York in 2013. The last time the troupe performed in So Cal was in September 2001, in the wake of the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The New York Times called the Royal Ballet of Cambodia “extraordinary and mysterious” while the San Francisco Chronicle called them “timeless.”

Renowned for its graceful hand gestures and stunning costumes, Khmer classical dance was established in the early Cambodian royal courts for the purpose of entertainment as well as ceremonial propitiation. The repertoire includes dances of tribute or invocation and the enactment of traditional stories and epic poems. An orchestra accompanies the dance, which embodies the traditional values of refinement, respect and spirituality. A female chorus provides a running commentary on the plot, highlighting the emotions mimed by the dancers, who were considered the kings’ messengers to the gods and to the ancestors.

In contrast to Westernized ballet with its emphasis on foot positions and movements that project a sense of weightlessness, Khmer classical ballet is grounded, focusing on detailed hand gestures and slow, precise movements. While more than one hundred hand movements have been recorded, it is rumored that the total number may be over four thousand five hundred.

Four distinct character types exist in the classical repertory: Neang the woman, Neayrong the man, Yeak the giant, and Sva the monkey. Each possesses distinctive colors, costumes, makeup and masks. The gestures and poses, mastered by the dancers only after years of intensive training, evoke the gamut of human emotions, from fear and rage to love and joy.

Over the centuries, The Royal Ballet has suffered all the repercussions of Cambodia’s eventful history, and at various times was nearly lost. It practically ceased to exist under the repressive rule of the Khmer Rouge, who eliminated almost all master dancers and musicians. Immediately after Pol Pot’s defeat in 1979, dance troupes re-emerged and performances of the ancient repertory resumed. Miraculously, today’s Royal Ballet has regained its former splendor, but still faces numerous difficulties such as a lack of funding, suitable performance spaces and competition from modern media.

“The Stars of the Royal Ballet” will be presented October 18, 2014 at 8 p.m. 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.

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