One of the stunning new collections from the Jerome Robbins Dance Division now available in the Library’s Digital Collections is the Khmer Dance Project (KDP). Funded by a grant from the Anne Hendricks Bass Foundation, the KDP began in 2008 when the Center for Khmer Studies partnered with the Jerome Robbins Dance Division to interview and film the three generations of artists - including dancers, musicians and singers, as well as embroiderers and dressers - who kept dance alive during and in the wake of the Khmer Rouge regime. The New York Public Library offers streaming video of all these recordings free of charge through its Digital Collections at digitalcollections.nypl.org/dancevideo. There one can click on the Khmer Dance Project, listed as a featured collection.
HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi with Royal Ballet of Cambodia, Photo by Anders JirasThe Khmer Dance Project contains nine performances and rehearsals of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, and fifty interview recordings from Cambodia. KDP was led by former dancer and scholar Nut Suppya, who directed the documentation of classical Khmer ballet. The Cambodian-based Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center recorded and edited the interviews and performances for KDP.
The Khmer Dance Project is especially valuable because of the breadth of perspectives it brings to documenting Cambodian dance. In multiple, extended oral histories, older interviewees talk in depth about their experiences studying and performing in the Royal Ballet before the Khmer Rouge period. They talk in detail about the roles and gestures they specialized in; they discuss their experiences under the Khmer Rouge, often revealing painful and moving stories about suffering and survival. They speak about how they returned to dance or music after the fall of the Khmer Rouge and how they worked to revive Cambodian culture. The recordings include demonstrations of song, dance, musical instruments, and the materials and processes of creating the lavish costumes for the Royal Ballet.
After looking at the collection online at the Library’s website, Boreth Ly, Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Art History and Visual Culture at University of California at Santa Cruz, wrote, “I have watched all the interviews that Suppya Nut conducted with the older and young dancers and they are priceless. I love listening to the older dancers, their use of the Khmer language and aesthetic vocabulary is extraordinary. I really think Suppya did an excellent job with her questions (only Suppya, with her knowledge of Khmer language, culture, dance and the arts could come up with these nuanced questions), especially to the older dancers.”
Honored guests and audience watched a documentary of Princess Norodom Buppha DeviThe KDP recordings debuted in Cambodia on October 25, 2013, for UNESCO World Audiovisual Heritage Day.
HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, Kang Rithisal, Peter Sellars Photograph by Darial SneedThe KDP debuted in the United States on April 30, 2013, at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts when the Jerome Robbins Dance Division presented an evening with HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi in conversation with director Peter Sellars. At that evening, the Dance Division screened rare dance footage from Cambodia and included two recent performances of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia that were a sneak preview for the public of the recordings from the KDP. This program was presented in conjunction with Season of Cambodia and Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Anne H. Bass hosted a reception for all attendees on the Plaza Level where the exhibition Memory Preserved: Glass Plate Photographs of the Royal Cambodian Dancers was displayed on the walls. These rare images of five principal women dancers from the Royal Ballet of Cambodia were on display in the United States for the first time. Recently rediscovered, catalogued, restored, and digitized, the 1927 images capture the dancers demonstrating the postures and gestures from the classical canon. French scholar George Groslier, who was the Director of the National Museum of Cambodia, had initiated the project to preserve the memory of the ballet, which he believed was endangered. This exhibition is an initiative of the Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) and the National Museum of Cambodia, with support from UNESCO and the Institut Français du Cambodge.
Memory Preserved: Cambodian Royal Dancers Nou Nâm (L, male role) and Ith (R, male role), George Groslier, April 1927 - Courtesy of the National Museum of Cambodia
HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, Anne Bass Photograph by Darial SneedAt the reception, Phloeun Prim of Season of Cambodia, with Jackie Davis and Jan Schmidt of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, gave special thanks to Anne H. Bass for all the work and advice she has given to this program and to dance.