Khmer Dance Project

Overview
Khmer_Dance_Project_Final_Report_page5_image3The Khmer Dance Project (KDP), generously funded by Anne H. Bass, was launched in 2008 as a partnership of the Center for Khmer Studies and the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. The goal of KDP was 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 elderly masters were the priority for KDP, and the resulting videos have greatly expanded upon existing knowledge and awareness of this endangered and celebrated art form.

The first phase took almost six weeks (March and July 2008) as each elderly dance master was personally interviewed. Phase 2 (2009) focused on the second generation of artists who trained under the old masters filmed in Phase 1. During Jan Schmidt’s trip to Cambodia during Phase 2, she met with interviewees, members of Bophana Audio Visual Center who are making the recordings, and members of the Center for Khmer Studies. In light of Cambodia’s recent history, with the disappearance of the majority of artists under the Khmer Rouge regime, and the continuing deaths of the survivors due to advanced age, it became clear that this project was more crucial and significant than ever. As part of the February 2012 agreement with the Center for Khmer Studies, the Center and the Library are joint owners of the rights to the footage on the tapes.

Princess Norodom Buppha Devi and dancer
Princess Norodom Buppha Devi and dancer

The project was completed in 2013, with the KDP having recorded nine performances and rehearsals of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia and fifty interviews 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. Streaming video of all these recordings is freely available through the Library’s Digital Collections website (digitalcollections.nypl.org/dancevideo), where KDP is listed as a featured collection. Since the launch on November 1, 2013, there have been 154 views of the Khmer Dance videos.

 HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi with Royal Ballet of Cambodia, Photo by Anders Jiras.
HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi with Royal Ballet of Cambodia, Photo by Anders Jiras.

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.”

To supplement the video archive of Khmer Dance Project, director Suppya Nut also made copies of rare published materials. This box of articles, programs and sections of books, along with the final reports for Khmer Dance Project will be processed soon and added to the Dance Division’s archive.

Project Titles
Titles from the Khmer Dance Project are available at The New York Public Library’s website,
digitalcollections.nypl.org/dancevideo.

9 titles of performance or rehearsal programs, mostly of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.

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51 Interviews with Cambodian dancers, musicians and singers, as well as embroiderers and dressers.

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Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, Anne Lemaistre, Suppya Nut at World Audiovisual Heritage Day, Photo Mr. Sodh Samreth, UNESCO
Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, Anne Lemaistre, Suppya Nut at World Audiovisual Heritage Day, Photo Mr. Sodh Samreth, UNESCO

Outreach and Related Programs
The KDP recordings debuted in Cambodia on October 25, 2013, for UNESCO World Audiovisual Heritage Day, which celebrates institutions that preserve and safeguard fragile sound and moving image recordings and promotes the preservation and the dissemination of audiovisual heritage throughout the world. The audience was delighted to see the interviews, as well as the footage from rehearsals and performances.

HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, Kang Rithisal, Peter Sellars at the Bruno Walter Auditorium. Photograph by Darial Sneed
HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, Kang Rithisal, Peter Sellars at the Bruno Walter Auditorium. Photograph by Darial Sneed

The KDP debuted in the United States on April 30, 2013 to a full audience in the Library’s Bruno Walter Auditorium. The Jerome Robbins Dance Division, in conjunction with the Season of Cambodia and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, presented an evening with HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi in conversation with director Peter Sellars. 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.

Additionally, in partnership with Season of Cambodia, the Library hosted the exhibition Memory Preserved: Glass Plate Photographs of the Royal Cambodian Dancers in the Plaza Lobby from March 28 – May 31, 2013. The exhibition featured rare images of five principal women dancers from the Royal Ballet of Cambodia 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 to preserve the memory of the ballet. Over 122,000 visitors viewed these special plates.

Cambodian Royal Dancers Nou Nâm (L) and Ith (R), George Groslier, April 1927
Cambodian Royal Dancers Nou Nâm (L) and Ith (R), George Groslier, April 1927

Press
The Library’s Media Relation’s Office publicized the Khmer Dance Project’s final step of adding the
videotapes to the Library’s website and making the tapes available to the public anywhere in the world.

For the April 30, 2013 program with HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi and Peter Sellars, many promotional pieces went out noting that the screening of two recent performances of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia were a sneak preview for the public of the recordings from the KDP.

For the Cambodian launch, The Cambodian Daily published an article on October 26, 2013
titled Audiovisual Day Marked with Tribute to Cambodian Classics, written by Michelle Vachon.

The New York Public Library used a number of online methods to announce the availability of the KDP
videos, including:

– Tumblr page on October 25, 2013 highlighting the launch:
nypl.tumblr.com/post/65050683886/nypls-jerome-robbins-dance-division-and-the
– Blog by Jan Schmidt on the Library’s website:
www.nypl.org/blog/2013/12/11/khmer-dance-project-videos
– Announcement on the front page of The New York Public Library’s website.
– November 11, 2013 newsletter NYPL NOW!: http://bit.ly/1d2gCMy
– Explore Videos from The Khmer Dance Project

One of the stunning new collections now available in the Library’s Digital Collections is the Khmer Dance Project (KDP), which contains nine performances and rehearsals of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia and more than 50 related interviews. Funded by a grant from the Anne Hendricks Bass Foundation, the KDP was launched in 2008 when the Center for Khmer Studies partnered with the Jerome Robbins Dance Division to interview and film three generations of artist— 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.