You’ve definitely heard of the traditional Apsara dance if you’ve ever visited Cambodia or even just done a quick Google search on the country.
Princess Sisowath Kossamak, the mother of well-known arts supporter Prince Sihanouk, revived traditional Apsara dance for the Royal Cambodian Ballet in the 1940s.
Apsara dance is recognized for its long, beautiful movements and elaborate costumes.
Within the Royal Cambodian Ballet, Princess Soswath Kossamak taught the art of Apsara dance to her granddaughter, Princess Norodom Buppha Devi.
The art form, which is characterized by complicated hand movements and elaborate clothing and headgear, has been connected to Cambodian royal courts for more than a thousand years, claims UN cultural organization UNESCO.
At the age of 18, Princess Norodom Buppha Devi would go on to become the company’s prima ballerina, and for the rest of her life, she would serve as the global face of Apsara dance.
The Princess performed as an Apsara dancer on international trips and held the position of Cambodia’s Minister of Culture and Fine Arts. She was renowned for her delicate moves, extraordinary talent, and classic beauty.
The first and official biography of the late Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, written by Julio A. Jeldres, who also wrote the biography of her father King Norodom Sihanouk, now provides a detailed and illustrated record of her life, career, and devotion to Cambodia’s traditional art, particularly the Royal Ballet.
The Princess Buppha Devi Association recently held the official launch of the 184-page autobiography of the “Goddess of Flower,” titled “The First Royal Apsara,” at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal.
Princess Buppha Devi was a half-sister of King Norodom Sihamoni and the older sister of Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
From 1998 until 2004, Princess Buppha Devi served as the Minister of Culture and Fine Arts. She also served as the director of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, which is noted for its extravagant costumes, accessories, gold, and silver, accompanied by a beautiful soft dance.
Because of her dance talent, her father, Sihanouk, gave the Princess a part in his first feature-length film, Apsara, in 1966.
The Princess continued to diligently promote the Royal Ballet after retiring from her government position, until her passing on November 18, 2019, at the age of 76, from natural causes at a hospital in the neighboring country of Thailand.
The author claimed that the inspiration for the book came to him during a lunchtime talk with Princess Buppha Devi at the Cambodiana Hotel in Phnom Penh in November 1991.
Jeldres clarified, “She was referring of a book about the Royal Ballet, not about herself. The Princess was an extremely modest and caring individual. She wished there had been a book on the Royal Ballet that documented how the troupe had persevered despite Cambodia’s tragic past”.
Princess Buppha Devi’s youngest son Sisowath Veakchiravuddh asked Jeldres to continue writing the book shortly after her passing in late 2019 so that this time the emphasis will be on the Princess.
Jeldres spent three years interviewing people who had worked with Princess Buppha Devi in order to acquire knowledge about her. He eventually sat down with all the notes, records, and images he had gathered about the Princess.
He completed The First Royal Apsara in April of this year.
According to Jeldres, the task was difficult because the person he was writing about had passed away, and it was also a difficult period because of the pandemic.
Jeldres continued, “I’m hoping the book will show the public how Princess Buppha Devi became the first star of the Royal Ballet and how she brought the dance that Queen Sisowath Kossamak created from the Khmer traditional dance as a special treasure to show the high dignity of Cambodian dancers to opulent stages all over the world.”
The book is divided into seven chapters. Jeldres complied with the late princess’s request in Chapter 4 by in-depth writing about the Royal Ballet, her lifetime passion.
The remaining chapters describe Princess Buppha Devi’s life, from her early years and rise to royal fame, to her tenure as the Cultural Minister and her final days.
The book includes a good number of photos and illustrations that highlight the Princess’s life and career, whose loss saddened the entire nation.
Source: The PhnomPenh Post and Khmer Times