Cambodian Dance by Denise Heywood River Books HK$349 The awesome grace and meticulous movements of Cambodian dancers have entranced audiences for centuries, and planes full of tourists descending on Siem Reap, the jumping-off point for Angkor Wat, now enjoy their performances. Dating back to the days of the Angkor empire, which flourished from the ninth to the 15th centuries, Cambodian dance transforms each performer into the embodiment of the celestial apsaras ornately carved on temple walls - hence the subtitle of this volume, Celebration of the Gods. Denise Heywood, a lecturer on Asian art, brings the reader a fine appreciation of the form, intertwined with its turbulent history and an explanation of why it has long been at the core of Khmer culture and identity. This recently reissued volume examines the origins and development of the dances, music, ritual and shadow puppetry in the context of their spiritual importance and as media for communicating with the deities. (Thai classical dancing, incidentally, borrows heavily from the traditional choreography of Angkorian times; after Siam's invasion of Siem Reap in 1431, hundreds of Cambodian dancers were abducted and taken to Ayutthaya, the Thai capital, to perform.) Cambodia's tragic recent history condemned its great tradition of dance to near oblivion. The Khmer Rouge not only slaughtered 90 per cent of artists, dancers and writers, but also came close to extinguishing culture and tradition in favour of Pol Pot's agrarian dystopia, which had no place for art, culture or any other kind of entertainment. Heywood's interest in Cambodian dance was heightened by the extraordinary tale of how a few dancers and choreographers came through the genocidal years of 1975 to 1979. In January 1979, a new government, backed by Vietnam, proclaimed the restoration of normal society. A handful of survivors emerged from the darkest era of Cambodian history dedicated to resuscitating their cherished dance traditions. Choreographer Pich Tum Kravel and theatre director Chhen Phon were enlisted by the new Ministry of Culture to gather all surviving dancers. Techniques had been handed down through the generations and never documented, so everything depended on memory. The late Chea Samy became the principal teacher at the re-established School of Fine Arts in 1981 (ironically, Pol Pot was her brother-in-law). And with reference to the Ramayana tradition on which Cambodian dance was based and the memories of survivors, the performing arts were revived. When the Cambodian National Dance Company performed in Phnom Penh 1981, the audience wept. This outpouring of emotion encompassed tears of sadness for deceased loved ones and tears of joy that Khmer dance had been salvaged from the destruction. In 2003, Unesco named the Royal Ballet of Cambodia an exemplar of oral, intangible heritage. A year later, Prince Norodom Sihamoni, a former classical dance instructor, became king of Cambodia.