Monday, May 6, 2013

The Legend of Apsara Mera

Every traditional martial art deploys katas which are combat against an imaginary opponent. Katas distill fighting style in such a way that aggression is transformed into beauty, which takes the form of choreography. And katas also comprise a narrative usually concerning a series of struggles or obstacles that are overcome. In this sense many katas resemble ballets and operas. Imagine Wagner's Ring cycle as simply a very complex kata with an orchestral accompaniment! The Royal Ballet of Cambodia’s  “The Legend of Apsara Mera,” which was recently performed at BAM reflects both the Eastern tradition of the kata, turning martial arts technique into dance movement while also displaying the leitmotifs of the fertility cycle, the relation between god and man, the search for immortality and the mythical origins of a civilization that are characteristic themes of Western opera and classics of enthno-anthropology like Frazier’s The Golden BoughIndeed the final section of the opera which concerns the wooing of the goddess Apsara Mera by Prince Kambu presents the myth of the founding of the kingdom of Cambodia. For a country that has had its share of revolutions, the costume design of the ballet, with its shimmering gold mail, which seems to defy gravity, revolutionizes one’s view of antiquity. The current production was choreographed by Her Royal Highness Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, the daughter of the late King Norodom Sihanouk. One wonders if his mythic and embattled reign will someday be represented in the repertoire of the company.

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