More than a thousand years ago in ancient Cambodia, the renowned celestial dancers of the Angkor Wat temple performed sacred ritual dances to bring prosperity to the land. Today, Classical Cambodian dance has become a central symbol of the beauty and spirituality of its culture and was the focus of the fall 2011 World Dance Symposium at Rutgers-Newark.
On Monday, October 10, 2011, The Angkor Dance Troupe presented Celestial Grace: A Symposium on Cambodian Dance & Culture, which explored both classical and folk styles of Cambodian dance. Sponsored by the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience, and co-sponsored by The Newark Museum, the all-day Dance Symposium featured a lecture/demo on Cambodian history, tradition, and dance and the Angkor Dance Troupe presented an hour-long performance at the Bradley Hall Theater.
In conjunction with this special event, The Newark Museum offered free admission and a walk-through of its celebrated Asian Art Galleries the weekend of October 7, 8 and 9th. Located just a block from the Rutgers-Newark campus, the Newark Museum boasts one of the best quality collections of Asian Art in the Americas.
The Angkor Dance Troupe was formed in 1986, in Lowell, MA, by a small group of dancers who learned traditional Cambodian dance in refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. Dance and its associated rituals and beliefs have become a way for Cambodian people to reconstruct a sense of community and culture, particularly for refugees who have resettled in the U.S. and other countries. Between 1975 and 1979, when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia, more than 90% of the country's artists perished or fled. Today as Cambodia struggles to emerge from decades of war and poverty, the people look to the rebirth and recreation of dance as testimony to the endurance of their culture.
There are 4,500 gestures considered to be the basic movements of the elegant and highly stylized Cambodian Classical dance. Folk dance is also a well-rooted Cambodian tradition that depicts rituals of everyday village life, such as fishing and rice farming. Both dance forms were explored during the symposium.