DANCE IN CAMBODIA
Dance is a greatly revered and is a popular art form in Cambodia. Calendars and posters often feature photographs of famous dancers rather than famous actors. Many famous actresses in Cambodia got their start as dancers. The current king is a former dancer. In Cambodia's villages, plays performed by actors wearing masks are popular. Shadow plays, performed using black leather puppets that enact scenes from the Reamkern, are also enjoyed. Folk dancing is popular in rural Cambodia and is performed spontaneously to a drumbeat.
Dance, music and theater are interrelated and closely linked with Cambodian royalty and history. Inscriptions from the 7th century show that dancers were given to kings in temples as offerings. The temples at Angkor are filled with images of dancers. According to Khmer mythology, Cambodia was created by a union between a king and a heavenly dancer.
There are four main types of Cambodian dance: 1) folk dancing, associated with original inhabitants of the region; 2) sacred dances, linked with Hinduism and Buddhism; 3) classical dances traditionally performed for the Cambodia court; and 4) modern disco and dance hall dances. Pure dance is often referred to as robam, ancient dance as robam moram, dance-dramas as lakhon and the classical dance of today as lakhon kbach boran. The best preserved and most well known of them in the West is the classical tradition, which has been closely connected to the court for centuries. Classical dance has been revived but village folk dancing s dying out, a victim of the Khmer Rouge years and competition from karaokes, pop music, television and DVDs.
Books: “Dance in Cambodia” by Toni Shapiro-Phim; “International Encyclopedia of Dance” , editor Jeane Cohen, six volumes, 3,959 pages, $1,250, Oxford University Press, New York. It took 24 years to prepare.
History of Khmer Dance
Over the centuries Khmer dancing lent its influence to the classical ballet of neighboring countries, and some of its postures and movements are similar to other Southeast Asian dance forms. But according to Princess Buppha Devi, "The Khmer kingdom started its traditions in the 8th century, 500 years before Thailand." In 1400, with the sacking of the Angkor Empire, the Apsara dancers were seized and taken to Thailand.
According to Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki: The roots of Cambodian dance and theatre are believed to lie in ancient indigenous rituals, such as funerary ceremonies or rites connected to animistic or ancestor worship. Most of these predate the emergence of Funan (A.D. 100–550) and Chenla (550–800), the first Indian-influenced kingdoms, or power centres, in the regions of today’s Cambodia. [Source:Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki ~~]
Early documentary sources clearly indicate strong Indian influences. One such source is a sixth-century inscription describing arrangements for the daily recitation of holy texts of Indian origin: the Ramayana, the Mababbarata, and the Purana texts. They were adopted from India together with the Sanskrit language and Hindu Brahmanism in its Shivaistic form, that is, with the god Shiva as its central manifestation. ~~
The “golden age” of Cambodian history was the Angkorean period from AD 802 to 1431, when splendid temples and cities such as the magnificent Angkor Wat were built, and Khmer dance achieved the status of a kind of state art. After the conquest of Angkor by the Thais in 1431, Theravada Buddhism and the art styles of the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya came to shape the culture of Cambodia. As in Thailand, a localised version of the originally Indian epic Ramayana was rewritten in the 16th or 17th century and it became country’s national epic, known as the Reamker. ~~
Thai dance technique and its repertoire were also adopted in Cambodia during the long period of Thai domination which had already started in the 14th century and ended in 1907, when the Thais returned the province of Siem Reap (where Angkor is located) to the Cambodians. Dance masters from the Thai court are known to have trained the Cambodian Royal ballet even during the period of Rama I (1782–1809), and the co-operation of the Cambodian and Thailand’s National dance companies still continues today.
In 1863 Cambodia became one of the French protectorates and thus the European, particularly the French, influence started to spread rapidly within the urban surroundings and also influenced the development of theatre and dance. After the declaration of independence in 1953, an intensive search for the nation’s roots started. Freedom from centuries of foreign dominance, first Thai and then French, inspired a movement that is often called “Khmerisation”. The origin of the nation’s history was found in the glorious Khmer culture of the Angkorean period, which served and still serves as a source of inspiration for theatre and dance as well. ~~
The end of the 1960s was the beginning of a period of three decades of war and political turmoil. First the Vietnam War, and then the rule of the Khmer Rouge, which lasted until 1991, killed millions of Cambodians and destroyed the country’s infrastructure. In these circumstances theatre and dance were, of course, of secondary importance. During the present period of peace the performing arts are quickly recovering, partly because of the support by the international community and the needs of the country’s thriving tourist industry. ~~
Khmer Dance and Theatre in Angkor
Angkor Wat contains approximately 600 metres of narrative reliefs and nearly 2000 female figures, most of them dancing. According to Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki: “There exist thousands of dance-related sculptures and reliefs from the Angkor period. Together with stone inscriptions they give us information about dance and theatre in the Khmer civilization. They, at least, make clear how important an element dance was in the Khmer culture, especially in temple rituals. [Source:Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki ~~]
“In his study of the civilization of Angkor, Charles Higham (2001) has referred to dance-related inscriptions starting from the period of the early kingdom of Chenla, which existed from the 6th to the 9th centuries until civilization reached its apogee during the rule of Jayavarman VII (1181–1220). An early Chenla inscription mentions a rather modest number of 17 dancers among gifts given to a temple. However, it is notable that even during the Chenla period the existence of male dancers is referred to. It seems that, following Indian practice, employing girls as temple dancers was regarded as a form of merit-gaining in Khmer society. By the time of the rule of Jayavarman VII the dance groups had grown in size. Inscriptions mention, among other employees of the temple of Ta Phrom, 615 female dancers and 1000 dancers in the temple complex of Preah Khan. When the king’s son listed his father’s achievements in an inscription, he mentioned no less than 1622 female dancers. The inscriptions give valuable information about the social status of dancers. According to them it seems that dancers came from all levels of society. ~~
“The sculptures and reliefs give several kinds of information about Khmer dance. The most common images are those of the hundreds of figures of dancing girls, which are either shown dancing alone, in a group of two or three, or in a row formation. Traditionally these figures are automatically labelled “apsaras”, the mythical heavenly dancers of Hindu-Buddhist mythology. Their turned-out leg position with its many variations is the most dominant Indian-influenced feature in the dance images in Southeast Asia from approximately the 8th century onward. In Khmer dance images, however, both the supporting and the raised leg are strongly bent, which often results in an exceptionally low position. ~~
“Most of the dancing “apsaras” convey an impression of dynamic movement, since keeping one’s balance in this position for a longer time seems nearly impossible. The torso is often stiff and erect, sometimes slightly sideways bent. The most dominant movements are those of the arms and hands. In fact, most of the elements of body and hand movements can be analysed according to the Sanskrit terms established in the Natyashastra. However, there does not seem to be direct Indian influence any more. The lowness of the position gives the movement an unmistakable “Khmer” flavour. Above all, the strongly backward-bent fingers, which are still a common feature in Southeast Asian dance today, regularly appear among the otherwise often Indian-influenced Khmer hand movements. ~~
“Besides these female dancers the Khmer dance imagery includes hundreds of portrayals of other kinds of dances too, such as processional war dances, training of martial arts, relaxed social dancing, and even acrobatic circus entertainment. A wide range of dance-related poses can be found in the narrative relief panels of Angkor Wat. As many of the myths portrayed in these narrative panels culminate in great battle scenes, the reliefs consequently show figures in several types of positions related to fighting. They include not only the above-mentioned flexed open-leg position but also poses related to the use of weaponry, especially to archery. ~~
Although these positions are clearly also localised in Khmer reliefs, many of them, however, stem from the Indian tradition, where several fixed positions indicating the use of archery were categorised. The narrative reliefs often also depict stylised sitting and riding poses, which can still be seen employed in classical dance-dramas, both in Cambodia and neighbouring Thailand. One crucial question is whether some of the scenes shown in the narrative panels, such as the depiction of the Hindu creation myth, The Churning of the Milky Ocean, could have been based on actual theatrical performances. In the case of The Churning of the Milky Ocean this seems possible, as some scholars have suggested. This is supported by the fact that at least at the court of Pagan, as was already mentioned, and at the Thai courts of Ayutthaya and Bangkok as well as in East Java, the Indraphisekha ritual “pantomime” enacting the myth of The Churning of the Milky Ocean was regularly performed during the coronation ceremonies. ~~
“If this assumption were correct, the fact that large-scale mythological dance dramas were performed by male actor-dancers would explain the contradiction between the Khmer inscriptions and the imagery, which only rarely shows any male dancers. The hypothesis favoured by this author is that male dancers participated in large-scale dance dramas, such as the Indraphisheka. This is supported by the fact that at the Thai courts of Ayuthhaya and Bangkok, the inheritors of the Khmer legacy, the large-scale dance drama, khon, enacting scenes from the localised Ramayana, was originally performed by male dancer-actors only. Indeed, when one compares the dance-related information provided by the reliefs of Angkor with still living dance traditions, it is exactly the Thai khon and its sister form, the lakhon kol of Cambodia, that one should look examine. ~~
Thai Influences on Khmer Dance and Theatre After Angkor
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “The heyday of Khmer culture came to an end in 1431, when the Thais conquered Angkor and the Khmer court for the second time, and also, possibly, its artists were captured and taken to the Thai capital of Ayutthaya. The conquerors greatly valued the dance and theatre traditions as well as other aspects of the Khmer culture. Over the centuries Khmer traditions were adapted to the Thai taste and Thai spirit. The result was what is known today as the classical Central Thai culture with its various forms of theatre and dance. [Source:Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki ~~]
“The transplanting of the Thai tradition was, in many ways, a total process, and in the nineteenth century, for example, two complete dance troupes were sent from the Thai court to the Khmer court. Until World War II the Royal Cambodian Ballet performed its classical repertoire in the Thai language. The Cambodian classical repertoire of today bears strong Thai influences. The grand scale dance-drama, lakhon khol, is basically a Khmer version of the Thai khon, a 'masked pantomime’ depicting scenes from the Ramayana. Nang shek thom, or “large hides”, is one of the two types of Cambodian shadow theatre. Despite some differences in the style of the puppets, it is closely related to the ancient nang yai shadow theatre of Thailand. Similarly, the forms of Cambodian dance-dramas called roeung or lakhon were, in turn, strongly influenced by the lakhon dance-drama of Thailand.~~
“A well-known saying is that if one is seeking the remnants of ancient Khmer culture, one should look at Thailand but while seeking traces of the Thai culture of the Ayutthaya period, one should look at Cambodia. Although this is an exaggeration, there is a certain truth in the saying. The kingdom of Ayutthaya adopted several cultural elements from the Khmers, including court rituals, the concept of the god-king and possibly also the traditions of court dance and dance-drama. Cambodia, on the other hand, was annexed to Thailand and the culture of Ayutthaya formed the basis of Cambodian Buddhist art as well as court art. ~~
Cambodian Dance and the Khmer Rouge
Most cultural institutions were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. Many dancers and musicians were executed. The Khmer Rouge believed that classical dance was one of the most decadent of Cambodian arts. Most of the nations best dances were killed, or died from starvation or disease. One that survived by hiding his identity told the New York Times, “During this four years I never even dreamed of dancing. I only dreamed f hunger.”
John O'Mahoney wrote in The Guardian: “One cultural sphere that suffered particularly badly was Cambodia's 1,000-year-old dance tradition. Before the rise of the Khmer Rouge, there were about 30 troupes performing Lakhaon Kaol, the intricate, masked, all-male sacred form that boasts 4,000 gestures in its movement vocabulary. It was a tradition that existed exclusively in the minds and muscles of the masters who practised it - and thus was almost entirely obliterated during the Pol Pot genocide. After the regime fell, the government launched a nationwide radio campaign to unearth surviving masters of the Kaol. The library of thousands of gestures was pieced together, like fragments of shattered earthenware. Even so, only a handful of the original companies were re-established, and these only on an ad hoc basis to perform for weddings and funerals." [Source: John O'Mahoney, The Guardian, March 26, 2007 ]
Cambodian Dancers and the Khmer Rouge
John O'Mahoney wrote in The Guardian: “Pum Bun Chanrath was famous in the 1960s and early 70s for his depiction of the role of Hanuman, the mighty Monkey King. When the Khmer Rouge took over, he was thrown in jail and tortured; he seemed destined for execution. When his guards asked him about his profession, he plumped for the honest approach: "I told them I was a Monkey Dancer," he says. "The soldier had no idea what that was, and so asked me to give a demonstration. But I was so malnourished and thin that I couldn't even stand up. All I could do was a pathetic suggestion of itching and scratching." It was enough to send the guard into paroxysms of laughter, and he was kept alive - and well fed - for future performances. "About a month later, I was released from prison. Most of the people I knew perished. Perhaps it was the Monkey Dance that kept me alive." [Source: John O'Mahoney, The Guardian, March 26, 2007 #]
Jane Wheatley wrote in The Times: “Pok Saran was 23 and a talented young dance student at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh when, on April 17, 1975, revolutionary soldiers of the Khmer Rouge marched into the streets of Cambodia’s capital and changed his life for ever. Along with millions of his fellow citizens, Saran was taken to a prison camp in the Cambodian countryside and put to work in the forests and rice fields. The interns were cruelly treated, given very little to eat and many were taken out to be shot. Large numbers died from disease and malnutrition. [Source: Jane Wheatley, The Times, March 27, 2007 ++]
“The commander of our camp was a Buddhist and had been the head man of a pagoda,” Saran says. “He was brainwashed by the Khmer and forced to be in charge of the killing fields. When he came back from supervising a killing expedition, he would ask me to play the flute to ease the stress he felt. I think this definitely gave me some protection.” Saran never dared to dance. “I danced only in my head,” he says. ++
“From the age of 9 Proeng Chhieng was travelling abroad to perform with the company, and in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge marched on Phnom Penh, Chhieng was studying new dance techniques in Korea. When he returned to his native country, he found that his family had fled the city and soldiers were in charge. “I stayed in Phnom Penh with other students,” he says. “We grew vegetables to stay alive and kept our heads down.” When the Cambodian Army came to liberate the city in early 1979, Chhieng and his fellow students were taken by the Khmer soldiers to hide out in the forests; by the summer he had managed to escape and trekked to Kampong Thom province, where he had heard that there was a small community of dancers, survivors of the killing fields. They were led by the charismatic Chhang Phon, an elder master and respected dance teacher who was determined to rescue the traditional repertory that had once been his country’s pride and joy. By the mid1980s Saran, Chhieng and others had returned to Phnom Penh to the revived Royal University of Fine Arts to form a fledgeling dance company. There was no money for culture from a crippled national economy — the dancers were paid in kind — but they were back in business. ++
According to UNESCO: The Royal Ballet 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. The ballet has regained much of its former splendour but still faces numerous difficulties, such as a lack of funding and suitable performance spaces, competition from modern media and the risk of becoming a mere tourist attraction.
Folk Dancing and Ritual Court Dance
No evidence of dances from the earliest times exist, however, some tribal and folk dances performed in remote regions probably still contain elements of from prehistoric times. Among the dances recorded by the University of Fine Arts in the 1950 where the “Leng Trott” (Dance of the Stag) and “Sneng Tonson” (Dance of the Wild Oxen), originally believed to have been a hunting dance, and the “chha-yam”, a masked dance performed to gongs and drums before religious processions. These were often performed as part of Khmer New Year’s festivals and featured comic verses.
According to the “International Encyclopedia of Dance”: Some of the folk dances have probably been in existence since prehistory. The animist spirit (“pi) is often subdued by the performance of a spirit dance, several early dances have Indian influences. The Siva cult has been in evidence in Cambodia since the A.D. forth century. “ The Peacock of Dursad “, theatrical version of a folk dance, has been performed by Cambodian refugees in the United States.
The epic poem of Rama (Ramayana) is believed to have been revealed to a Hindu holy man named Valmiki by Brahma, the god of creation. This religious literary work, dating from about A.D. 4, is known in various versions throughout India and Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, the story has been set to music and dance and performed by the Royal Ballet since the 18th century. Although the epic is also known in the villages, where it is translated orally or dramatized in the popular shadow puppet theater, the ballet was traditionally a courtly art performed in the palace or for princely festivals. The music of the ballet is performed by the Pinpeat orchestra, which is made up of traditional xylophones, metallophones, horizontal gongs, drums, and cymbals.
Khmer classical dance derived from Indian court dance, which traces its origins to the apsarases of Hindu mythology, heavenly female nymphs who were born to dance for the gods. The traditions of Thailand and Java (in Indonesia) also influenced the music and dance of Cambodia. In classical Cambodian dance, women, dressed in brightly colored costumes with elaborate headdresses, perform slow, graceful movements accompanied by a percussive ensemble known as the Pin Peat. Pinpeat orchestras include drums, gongs, and bamboo xylophones.
Archaic Ceremonial Performances
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “In the countryside and in the villages of Cambodia there have existed and still exist several types of ceremonial performance, which clearly have their roots in local animistic traditions. Among them are several possession traditions with shamanistic features. Possession or trance can be an integral element even in a ritual performance related to the classical tradition. [Source:Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki ~~]
“Two of these agrarian traditions, Trot and Wild Buffalo Horn Dance, clearly derive from early animistic traditions related to the imitation of animal movement, which, as has been seen many times before, is often a feature of very archaic traditions all over the world. Trot is a communal ceremony representing a deer hunt. During festive seasons groups of dancers wander from village to village. They erect animistic spirit houses before they enact the deer hunt, wearing painted faces or masks. The dancers represent forest dwellers, various kinds of animals and hunters. ~~
“Wild Buffalo Horn Dance is another communal ceremonial dance often associated with the New Year’s celebration in mid-April. Two dancers wearing papier maché buffalo heads or rattan headdresses with buffalo horns enact a combat between buffaloes, and finally their mating, while dancers wearing peacock feather headdresses support the dance. These ceremonies have also been adapted for the stage in the mid-20th century by university-trained choreographers and they often form part of dance shows aimed at foreign audiences. ~~
“As in Thailand, in Cambodia there also exists a ritual for honouring the teacher or guru of dance and the mythical founder of the whole art form. In Thailand it is called wai kru, and in Cambodia sapaeh kru. In this ceremony where dancers are initiated an elaborate altar for a statue of the Buddha and dance masks is erected. In front of it the actual ceremony and dances related to it take place. In Cambodia the ceremony sometimes includes possession or trance elements. ~~
Classical Cambodian Dance
Classical Cambodian dance is similar to Thai dance and not very old. Many dances date back to the reign of King Ang Duoin, who ruled Cambodia during a revival of Khmer nationalism in the 1840s and 50s. At that time Khmer-based Thai dances were given Khmer features inspired by temple carvings. In the 1930s, Cambodian dancers employed by the royal court were famous enough that they participated in international tours.
One of the most popular dances, the “robam”, is a group dance created in the 1950s and 60s during another period of Cambodian nationalism. Inspired by folk dances and classical court dances, it is performed to the accompaniment of horns, flutes, drums, cymbals and wooden clackers. Traditionally all the dancers were females, with women even dancing the male roles. The most well known of these dances, the “apsara” dance, features movements inspired by images of celestial nymphs at Angkor temples and costumes inspired by images of princesses there,
“Rooeung” are narrative dance dramas. They are usually based on the “Reamker”, the Khmer version of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. They features an array of gods, monkey soldiers, demons, mermaids and candle dancers. The star of the show is often Hanuman, the monkey god, one of the few roles danced by males. Many of the dancers wear masks. The dramas feature battle scenes, chases and journeys interspersed with lyrical dances performed to poetic songs. The narrative dances have traditionally featured a chorus that sings Khmer poetic texts that convey the story of the narrative to the music of tuned gongs, xylophones, drums and oboes.
One of the most well-known court dances in the “Monosanhchetana”. In a classic scene from the dance drama “ Muni Mekhala” the water goddess Mekhala flees her enemy Ream Eysom the storm spirit
Elements of Classical Cambodian Dance
Amy Catlin wrote in the “International Encyclopedia of Dance”, “The essential elements of traditional Cambodian dance style are suppleness and grace” with “a basic vocabulary of meaningful gestures, movements and poses.”
Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times: “Classical Cambodian dance is a deeply conservative form. In 1906 it was almost exclusively a function of the court. The dancers lived at the Royal Palace and performed at the king’s pleasure, mostly for dignitaries and royal rituals, like marriages or funerals. The dance itself unfolds in a slow succession of distinctive, almost mimetic postures that have changed little over time. Classical dances were not born of a single artistic mind; they were retellings of communal myths, commissioned by the royal family and created by committee. Proeung Chhieng, the vice rector at the Royal University of Fine Arts here, said that Cambodia’s dance was a tradition with a precise choreographic language that “excludes any improvisation or variation.” [Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, December 27, 2006]
Describing a performance of the robam, Jennifer Dunning wrote in the New York Times, “Mera, a mythical ancestor of the Cambodian people, is surrounded by six apsara...whom she has just encountered The delicately ornate costumes and very gradual motion and subtle gestures of the hands, feet and head are drawn from figures carved in Angkor Wat. What stands out...is the extraordinary control required to sustain such distinguishing features as the slow one-legged turns and soft S-curves of the women’s bodies.”
At the heart of classical form is the Apsara, the joyful, almost wanton dancer whose images are everywhere. Princess Buppha Devi, who currently serves as the Minister of Culture, is a master of Apsara dancing, which dates to the 1st century. The graceful movements of the Apsara dancers, adorned with gold headdresses and silken tunics and skirts, are carved on the walls of many of the temples at Angkor. Estimates are that there were 3,000 Apsara dancers in the 12th century court of King Jayavarman VII.
Apsara dancing is one of two elements of classical ballet, the other being "today" dancing, the depiction of early myths. Many of the dances involve performing a fragment of the Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic that is one and a half times as long as the Odyssey. Others are based on the legendary battles and mythical sagas carved in bas relief on the walls of the temples of Angkor-including the Churning of the Sea of Milk, the great battle between gods and demons for the holy liquid that gives immortality. There are 100 dances and dramas.
History of the Cambodian Royal Dance Troupe
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “To what extent the dance tradition of the Angkor is reflected in the classical dance of today is not exactly known. The Thai influence, on the other hand, is clearly recognisable in the court tradition of Cambodian dance. During the period when Cambodia was a vassal state of the Thais the bonds between Thai and Cambodian courts were close. For example, King Ang Duong (1796–1859) had taken refuge in the court of Thailand (then Siam). It is said that he set new standards for his court dance, since he was inspired by the dances he had seen in Thailand. He even remodelled the dance costume after Thai models. [Source:Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki ~~]
“During the period of the French Protectorate Cambodian classical dance, which was much admired by the French colonialists, remained an integral part of the court tradition. Dance performances were also frequently staged for foreign dignitaries. During the reign of King Norodom (1860–1904) the royal dance troupe consisted of some 500 dancers divided into several sub-troupes. There were also several Thai dancers in the troupe and thus Thai dance and the genres of dance-drama were implanted in Cambodia to be later developed in a slightly different way than in neighbouring Thailand. ~~
“During the reign of King Sisowath (1904–27) the royal dancers visited Europe for the first time. The group and the king himself went to the Colonial Exhibition in Marseilles. The extremely successful visit aroused general interest in Cambodian dance and several Western artists were greatly inspired by it. The French sculptor Auguste Rodin painted sketches and wrote in praise of the dancers, and several Western choreographers, among them Ted Shawn, Ruth St Denis, Xenia Zarina, and Jean Börlin, composed their own orientalistic fantasy choreographies in the Cambodian spirit. The successful visit to Marseilles was the first of several visits of the royal dance troupe to the West, which firmly established the fame of Cambodian dance in Europe. Otherwise, the reign of King Sisowath was a period of decline for court dance, as the number of dancers was reduced to about 100. ~~
Rodin and Cambodian Dancers
Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times: “In July 1906 Auguste Rodin went to the palace of the president of France for a garden party featuring the dancers of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. Paris was abuzz. King Sisowath of Cambodia was making his first state visit to France and had taken with him his troupe of royal dancers, girls with strange short hair and agile feet who had been performing to rave reviews at the Colonial Exposition in Marseille. Rodin, 66 at the time and already famous as a sculptor, showed up with a ticket but no tie. He was turned away, furious. He managed to see the dancers perform in the Bois de Boulogne a few days later. What he saw was so pure and startling that it sparked in him a kind of fever he could only describe as love. “I contemplated them in ecstasy,” he said at the time.[Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, December 27, 2006]
Rodin followed the dancers back to Marseille so precipitately that he left his art supplies behind and had to buy butcher paper from a grocer to draw on. “I would have followed them all the way to Cairo,” he said. From this brief encounter — Rodin spent less than a week in Marseille — came 150 of his most famous drawings. “Here you have a real exchange of two authentic traditions,” said Christina Buley-Uribe, a curator from the Rodin Museum in Paris who was here recently to hang the show, which opened on Saturday and runs through Feb. 11. “It is the encounter of Rodin’s modernity and this very traditional dance.”
In preparation for an exhibition of the sketches at the Cambodian Art Museum in Phnom Penh show, curators from the Rodin Museum in Paris worked with dancers to match the gestures in the drawings with the gestures of the dance. “Some drawings were precise,” Ms. Buley-Uribe said. “Others were completely unrecognizable by Cambodians. They didn’t know what it was.” Classical Cambodian dance is a deeply conservative form. In 1906 it was almost exclusively a function of the court. The dancers lived at the Royal Palace and performed at the king’s pleasure, mostly for dignitaries and royal rituals, like marriages or funerals. The dance itself unfolds in a slow succession of distinctive, almost mimetic postures that have changed little over time. Classical dances were not born of a single artistic mind; they were retellings of communal myths, commissioned by the royal family and created by committee. Writing in the exhibition catalog, Proeung Chhieng, the vice rector at the Royal University of Fine Arts here, said that Cambodia’s dance was a tradition with a precise choreographic language that “excludes any improvisation or variation.”
In contrast, Rodin, as a modern, Western artist, improvised. He used the dancers as the basis of his own invention, placing in their hands small statues and palms — Greek allegories of victory — and washing them in colors of an Italian fresco: ocher, rust and blue. “The exotic aspect of the Cambodian dancers is zero,” Ms. Buley-Uribe said. “He’s interested in their gestures and in his ability to assimilate them for his own purpose.”
Soth Sam On, 77, was a member of the Royal Ballet from 1935 until the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975. The day the show opened, she visited the museum. Now a frail woman with large, watery eyes and a shock of white hair, she pressed her fingertips to the wall and peered intently at one of the drawings. “If you look to the position of the arm, it is not correct,” she said. “It is too high. But the energy is there.” Some of the drawings, she said, are of unfinished movements. “For me as a dancer, my teacher wanted me to be exact, to finish,” she said. “The drawings have loose lines, but they are very beautiful.”
Like many Cambodians, Ms. Soth had never heard of Rodin. Six students from the Royal University of Fine Arts who attended the opening gala of the exhibition had not heard of him either. Neither, for that matter, had the director of the National Museum, until, he said, curators from the Rodin Museum approached him about doing the show. Some of Rodin’s drawings have an unfinished quality that strikes some Cambodians as “lazy” or even “ugly.” “The art of Cambodia is very codified,” said Sisowath Tesso, the great-great-grandson of King Sisowath. “This vision of Rodin is very different. It is strange, sometimes, for Cambodian eyes.” Mr. Sisowath, who divides his time between France and Cambodia, added: “It can help Cambodians have another vision of their own art. If young people come here, they can say, ‘Why not have another vision about our own culture and be creative?’ ”
Royal Dance Troupe Dancers
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “According to textual sources, it seems that the dancers in Angkor were most often offered to the temples and maybe also to the palace, where they served as kinds of servants, like the devadasis of medieval Hindu temples. During the later periods, when Theravada Buddhism and other aspects of culture were adopted from Thailand, the court dancers continued to belong to the court and they lived in the palace area. [Source:Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki ~~]
“Ritual performances were staged in temples and at other auspicious sites around the country, although the main task of the court dancers was to take care of the royal rituals. Performances for foreign guests were also staged. Officials and minor dignitaries could have their own dance troupes, often led by retired court dancers. ~~
“The court troupe mainly consisted of female dancers who were also often mistresses or minor wives of the king. In earlier times their sphere of life was strictly limited to the palace grounds and they were not allowed to marry while they served at court. It was in the 1940s, during King Sihanouk’s reign, that the dancers were allowed to live outside the palace area and marry. ~~
Royal Dance Troupe Dances
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “The Cambodian court dance tradition has been strongly connected to the Thai tradition for centuries. It was implanted in Cambodia because the young Cambodian princes were often educated at the court of Thailand and also because Thai dancers and dance teachers frequently visited and worked at the Cambodian court. In Cambodia the first standardisation of classical dance took place as early as the mid-19th century. [Source:Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki ~~]
“The Royal Dance Troupe was supported by the Royal Household at Phnom Penh under the name of lakhon lueng or “the King’s dancers” until 1970. In the twentieth century its repertoire has consisted of some 40 roeung dance-dramas and 60 pure dance numbers called robam, which are mostly group dances performed by women. ~~
“The performances originally formed part of court rituals, but they are now often aimed at general audiences, and innovations have been introduced to revive the ancient Khmer dances. This has resulted in hybrid compositions that combine the traditional Thai-influenced technique with poses, costume and jewellery copied from ancient Khmer reliefs from the Angkorean period. ~~
“Classical dance technique is employed by several forms of dance-dramas, from purely classical forms to folk traditions. The most grandiose of the dance-dramas is lakhon khol, which is still performed in both palace and village contexts. ~~
Royal Ballet of Cambodia
The Cambodian Royal Ballet used to perform in lit-up night time performances at Angkor Wat. The elaborately ornamented pointy helmets the dancers wore, sometimes weighed up to fifteen pounds. It is no wonder then that Cambodian dance emphasizes hand and finger gestures not footwork.
The Royal Ballet of Cambodia was placed on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008. UNESCO reports: Renowned for its graceful hand gestures and stunning costumes ,the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, also known as Khmer Classical Dance, has been closely associated with the Khmer court for over one thousand years. Performances would traditionally accompany royal ceremonies and observances such as coronations, marriages, funerals or Khmer holidays. This art form, which narrowly escaped annihilation in the 1970s, is cherished by many Cambodians. [Source: UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity]
Infused with a sacred and symbolic role, the dance embodies the traditional values of refinement, respect and spirituality. Its repertory perpetuates the legends associated with the origins of the Khmer people. Consequently, Cambodians have long esteemed this tradition as the emblem of Khmer culture. 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 colours, 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. An orchestra accompanies the dance, and 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.
Dancers begin training when they are very young to stretch their joints. They do exercises such as bending back their fingers to touch their arms, twisting and arching their waists and holding the lotus position for long periods of time. The costumes of the female dancers are similar to those of Thai dancers except for a few differences such as the exposure of the right shoulder.
Royal University of Fine Arts
The Royal University of Fine Arts is the driving impetus behind Cambodian dance. The spiritual, parental bond between teachers and students is very tight, with students never questioning or second guessing their teachers. Often before practice students will give their teachers incense and flowers. Before performances student say special prayer directed towards the guardian spirits and ancestors of their teachers.
The Royal University of Fine Arts of Cambodia was established in 1964. Later, other institutions responsible for dance training, such as the National Conservatory, were also founded. In this academic milieu the traditional folk dances were newly interpreted. The results are beautified and “refined” versions of original folk dances, a phenomenon known in several dance cultures, for example in Europe, Russia, China and other Asian countries.
The idea was that the ethnic traditions should first be studied in their authentic surroundings by academically trained researchers and students and then reshaped to suit modern stages and audiences. The underlying motivation was to strengthen the national identity and teach people to appreciate the cultural expressions of ethnic minorities. The university-created folk dances in Cambodia include examples of several ethnic traditions. Many of the dances focus on the professions of ordinary people, such as the Good Crops Dance and the Fishing Dance.
The government today is trying to revive Cambodian classical dance by sponsoring classes for children at the Royal University of Fine Arts. During practices children practice acrobatic moves and poses. During performances the young children take to the stage in brilliantly-colored dance costumes.
Many of the children want to be cat or the monkey god Hanuman. They practice moves such as the crow (a light hop), the frog (a long leap), the duck (a waddle) and a crablike shuffle that has no name. Mastering the positions for a young monkey takes about two years, for a senior monkey, five years. To become skilled enough to play Hanuman can take a lifetime. Even masters like to watch the habits of real monkeys to learn tips.
Modern Dance in Cambodia
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “Despite the great Royal Dance Troupe’s success at the Marseilles Colonial Exhibition in 1906, dance and dance-drama declined in the early 20th century. A revival started during the 1940s. Prince Sihanouk (later King, Prime Minister, and the Head of State) employed the royal dancers as cultural ambassadors during his visits abroad as well as during the state celebrations. Sihanouk (1922–) is a great admirer of both Cambodian and French culture. He has composed songs in the style of French chanson, made movies and acted in them. The upper classes, familiar with French culture, experimented in drama in a French spirit. [Source:Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki ~~]
New dances, mainly non-dramatic “pure dances”, were created in the 1940s, while the traditional dance-dramas were often shortened to suit Westernised tastes. In 1962 Sihanouk gave the Royal Dance Troupe the status of a national institution and it got its own theatre building some years later. ~~
After the declaration of independence in 1953, an intensive search for the nation’s roots started. Freedom from centuries of foreign dominance, first Thai and then French, inspired a movement that is often called “Khmerisation”. The origin of the nation’s history was found in the glorious Khmer culture of the Angkorian period. ~~
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “In the 1960s, in the field of dance, this new nationalism referring to the glory of the Khmer civilization of the Angkor period led to the creation of the Apsara Dance (Robam Apsara), inspired by the dancing apsara figures of the reliefs of the temples of Angkor. The dance was choreographed by Sihanouk’s mother, Queen Kossamak, in 1962. The first performer of its main apsara was Princess Norodon Buppha Devi. She impersonated Mera, the legendary founder of Cambodia. Mera is surrounded by four to six supporting dancers, all wearing headdresses and ornaments inspired by the Angkor reliefs. [Source:Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki ~~]
“The dance has gained great popularity and has an enormous nationalistic symbolic value. It was created by royal order and the first performer of Mera was a princess, the daughter of the ruler of the country. Because of its royal and nationalistic content, the verses of the song that accompanies it were altered several times to suit the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese invaders. After the Khmer Rouge period, the international press announced that the first revived performance of the original Apsara Dance was a sign of the beginning of a new era. ~~
The Apsara Dance is an example of how historical sources can be employed in creating new works, in this case serving nationalism. The creation myth of the Cambodian nation is danced in a pure Thai-influenced classical Cambodia dance style, while the crowns and ornaments, copied from the reliefs of Angkor, refer to the greatness of the ancient Khmer civilisation. The Apsara Dance is probably the most popular of the modern classical dance numbers in today’s Cambodia. University-Created Folk Dances. ~~
King Sihanouk was succeeded by his son Norodom Sihamoni, a modest, gentle dancer, choreographer and cultural ambassador who had spent most of his life in France. He was selected by his father in October 2004. Sihamoni spent his childhood from 1962 to 1975 in Prague, where he got his basic education and studied classical dance, ballet and music.
Education Background: Primary and Secondary schooling at Prague's high school (Czechoslovakia). 1967-1971: Dance, music and theatre courses at the National Conservatory of Prague. 1970: High school certificate -Prague (with "very good" marks). 1971: First prize course of classical dance of the National Conservatory of Prague. 1971-1975: Higher dance, music and theatre courses, Academy of Musical Art of Prague. 1975: Graduated from the Academy of Musical Art of Prague. 1975: Author of a thesis on the conception and administration of artistic schools in Cambodia. 1975-1976.
In 1981, Sihamoni moved to France, and lived there for nearly 20 years, teaching ballet and then becoming president of the Khmer Dance Association. 1981-2000: Professor of classical dance and artistic pedagogy at the Marius Petipa conservatory, the Gabriel Faure conservatory and the W.A. Mozart conservatory of the city of Paris. 1984-1988: President of the Khmer dance association in France and director general and artistic director of the ballet group "Deva". 1988-1993: Director general and artistic director of the Khmer cinematographic corporation "Khemara Pictures". H.M. Norodom Sihamoni, then Prince, has produced two creations (Ballet-Films): Dream and the 4 Elements.
Crackdown on Karaokes and Dancing in Phnom Penh
In an effort to crackdown on drug use and prostitution and organized crime, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered all bars, karaokes and nightclubs to close down and prohibited dancing. Some bars got around the ban by taking down their bar signs and putting up new ones that said restaurant or movie cinema. Hun Sen was reportedly prompted to make the move when he heard that his drunken nephew was involved in bar shooting after being told by his parents that he was too young to marry his girlfriend.
The owner of Phnom Penh’s Heart of Darkness bar told AFP, “If we remain open the the police said: ‘No drugs, no prostitution, all windows and doors must remain open. All lights must remain on so we can see inside, and no dancing, absolutely no dancing.”
In August 2010 Singapore-based Leopard Capital said it planned to raise $50 million in capital to invest in Cambodia and Laos. It invested in things like Kingdom Breweries, Cambodia’s first microbrewery, and Acleda Bank Plc.
Cambodian National Theatre
John O'Mahoney wrote in The Guardian: “On the outskirts of Phnom Penh - well beyond the regular tourist stomping grounds of the Royal Palace and the Russian Market - lies one of the most curious cultural establishments in the world. If you approach it from the main road, the Cambodian National Theatre looks like many of the other derelict buildings dotted around the city, if a little more modernist and angular. In 1994, it was gutted by fire, the result of some careless workmen and a gas stove. With no funds for reconstruction, it remains exactly as it must have appeared the morning after the blaze - a scorched shell, roofless, ravaged and open to the elements. [Source: John O'Mahoney, The Guardian, March 26, 2007]
But it is only when you enter the building that you perceive the full extent of what's going on in this extraordinary theatre. Despite the devastation, it's a hive of activity. Actors practise their roles on a stage that is now little more than a mound of scorched concrete, overgrown with palm trees. Dancers lope around the rubble doing physical exercises, or swing gently in hammocks under the stage. An army of set-builders stagger over boulders in the gutted auditorium, putting the finishing touches to magnificent gilded pagodas and royal carriages.
In fact, everything continues as it must have done when this was a full, working performance space. "Before it was destroyed, this theatre was the best in Asia," says dancer Nup Samoeun, who has been with the company for 29 years. "Even though it has burned down, we still practise and do everything as before. We have no other place to go."
From a western perspective, the fact that this establishment manages to function and create works that tour the world is astounding. For Cambodians, the burned-out theatre is a symbol for the country's stubborn, beleaguered culture in general.
Cambodian National Theatre and Weyreap’s Battle
In the mid 2000s, the Cambodian National Theatre staged the traditional dance piece Weyreap's Battle, in collaboration with the Cambodian University of Fine Arts and an independent outfit called Amrita Performing Arts. John O'Mahoney wrote in The Guardian: “When it came to staging Weyreap's Battle - the first major Kaol production in more than 30 years - the challenges were huge. "We travelled to tiny villages, only accessible by boat," says Fred Frumberg of Amrita. "We tracked down forgotten masters and brought them to the city to make the piece." [Source: John O'Mahoney, The Guardian, March 26, 2007]
One of the choreographers of the piece, Pum Bun Chanrath, was famous in the 1960s and early 70s for his depiction of the role of Hanuman, the mighty Monkey King. To create Weyreap, Chanrath and his fellow masters spent five months in 2003, teaching the thousands of intricate hand gestures to a new generation of dancers, some of whom had never seen Kaol before. The result, which I saw performed in an open market square adjacent to the burned-out theatre, is an irrepressible, often naive riot of colour and tender-hearted good humour. When the platoons of monkey warriors arrive, they scratch their backsides, wriggle about and sniff each other. The sea creatures, with their giant papier-mache claws and flashing eyes, look for all the world like mythical Cambodian undersea ravers.
Weyreap's Battle was well received in London, Bangkok and Melbourne. Describing how the project came about, Jane Wheatley wrote in The Times: “In 1997 Fred Frumberg quit his job as an opera director in California and travelled to Cambodia as a UN volunteer to help to rebuild the devastated arts scene in Phnom Penh. Three years ago he formed a production company to put on revivals of traditional dance repertory. “Classical court dance is performed by women,” he explains. “The male form of classical masked dance — Lakhaon Kaol — was not considered sacred in the same way and was not receiving so much attention, so some of the dancers came to me and asked me to find a way they could perform too.” [Source: Jane Wheatley, The Times, March 27, 2007 ++]
“Frumberg managed to get a grant from the American Embassy — only $15,000 (£7,600), but in Cambodia a dollar goes a long way. “There was nothing documented,” he says. “So many people were dead. We had to go to the provinces and find the elder dance masters, bring them to Phnom Penh to help us with their memories.” The grant money subsidised the building of the troupe and paid for costumes and sets. Two years ago they gave their first performance and were immediately invited to Bangkok to perform there. It caused a sensation. A tour to the Melbourne Arts Festival followed and then the invitation to the Barbican [in London]. The presenters in each country pay for the dancers to come because there is no government funding. “The Government won’t even pay for passports,” Frumberg says. “A passport costs $100 — a lot of money for a dancer who earns $22 a month.” ++
“Lakhoun Kaol is a dance drama based on tales from the Indian epic of Ramayana , in which gods and monkeys battle demons and ogres. Saran is responsible for the choreography of the giants: “The dancers do not have any extra height,” he explains. “They must represent their superhuman power, strength and arrogance just with their movements.” His colleague Proeng Chhieng is the artistic director and a monkey specialist. “When I was a small boy I loved the monkey’s crazy antics,” he smiles. “It was all I wanted to do, so I became an expert in the role.” Chhieng’s grandmother had been a celebrated dancer at the royal palace. “My sister and I lived with her and she would take us to the palace to watch while she trained the young dancers,” Chhieng says. By then the Queen had decreed that the monkey roles should be played by men as they required special acrobatic strengths. The boy Chhieng was entranced. “When I was eight years old I donated myself to the palace to be trained as a classical dancer.” ++
“Twenty years on they have built up a company of 47 and a stunning repertory that is placing Cambodia firmly back on the international stage. The full piece lasts eight hours but Barbican audiences will be treated to an 80-minute episode called Weyreap’s Battle, in which the monkey king Hanuman and his forces rescue King Rama from the evil tyrant Ravena. “It is powerful, action-packed stuff,” says Frumberg, “full of acrobatic flair, often comic with translated narration.” Frumberg was speaking from Greece, where he is directing the opera Nixon in China. He is gradually weaning himself away from his role as a fundraiser and impresario for Cambodian dance. “They’re on the international radar,” he says. “It was all about capacity building; they can fly by themselves now.” ++
Crip Gang Member Brings Break Dancing to Cambodia
Reporting from Phnom Penh, Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “ His arms and chest coated with gangland-style tattoos, his eyebrow pierced, Tuy "K.K." Sobil sits in a cafe in Phnom Penh beside his 5-year-old son, Unique, adopted from drug dealer parents who couldn't cope. The onetime member of the Long Beach Crips served eight years in prison for armed robbery before being deported in 2004 to Cambodia, his parents' homeland. Now, six years after he found himself abandoned, impoverished and largely unwelcome in an ancestral land he'd never seen, the 32-year-old has tapped into long-forgotten break-dancing skills to become one of Cambodia's unlikeliest role models. His goal: to keep thousands of street children from making the same mistakes he did. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2010 ^^^]
“K.K.'s life was upended by a U.S. law that authorized deportations of noncitizens with any criminal conviction, from murder to shoplifting. Although he was born in a Thai refugee camp, never visited Cambodia and lived in the United States since he was 4, neither K.K. nor his illiterate parents formally applied for citizenship after he turned 18. But K.K. reckons the deportation pulled him out of a life that probably would have led him back to prison, or possibly to his death by now. "Doper, may he rest in peace, Doper passed away," he said of one former gang member. ^^^
“When K.K. landed, shellshocked, in Phnom Penh and looked around at the impoverished, war-torn country, the last thing he envisioned was a return to break dancing, which he hadn't done since he was 13. But after another deportee who knew of his reputation spread the word of his skills, street urchins badgered him until he finally agreed to give lessons in his living room. "There were 40 kids in the room every night," said Michael Otto, K.K.'s best man at his wedding to a Cambodian woman. "It was like a sauna." Working with youngsters left little room for self-pity. Sure, he'd had it tough. But at least the United States had public schools and welfare departments, both sorely lacking here. "I realized I needed to help out," he said. ^^^
“Before long, he left his job at Korsang, a nonprofit drug treatment center, to start the Tiny Toones youth center, housed in a run-down building with surging electricity, rats and leaking walls. Poverty, gangs, drugs and family abuse, a legacy of decades of war and dysfunctional government, left thousands of orphans and street children badly in need of help. Although rapping, break dancing, beat boxing, and deejaying — and K.K. — are the center's trademark, its real mission is to empower youngsters, help them kick drugs, and teach basic language, arts and computer skills. ^^^
"K.K.'s my hero," said Sun Makara, 19, who grew up on the street scrounging garbage, stealing and doing drugs. Makara, who sports a pierced left eyebrow and wears exposed underwear over low-hanging pants, has turned his life around and is teaching break dancing to troubled youths at Korsang and Tiny Toones. ^^^
“At the center's large outdoor dance floor, young wannabe hip-hop stars do headstands, back flips, one-hand hops and windmills to a pounding boombox, while around back, new tracks are being cut in a makeshift recording studio. The center is partly funded by grants from charitable foundations, individual donations and money earned selling T-shirts, hats, stickers and a short Tiny Toones album mixed on aging equipment. Funders say the group needs to get more organized to help more youngsters, and hire more support staff. K.K. acknowledges that administration isn't necessarily his strong suit. ^^^
“Many of the songs coming out of the center have a social message; one, "Huff Gow," is about sniffing glue. They often integrate modern vocals and beats with 1960s Cambodian oldies, which took their inspiration from Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and big band music. As Tiny Toones' reputation has grown, other doors have opened. American hip-hop group Jurassic 5 has stopped by, and six top dancers whom K.K. taught toured the U.S. last year. As a deportee, K.K. couldn't accompany them. But he followed them on YouTube as they showed off their moves and out-danced competitors in formal and informal matchups in Madison, Wis., New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Los Angeles.Seeing them perform without him by their side was bittersweet. "It made me sad, but also proud," he said. ^^^
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
Last updated May 2014