(Posted concurrently on MetaFilter. )
Robam Apsara: The dance of celestial nymphs, classical Khmer dance is the single greatest link between the ancient Angkor civilization and contemporary times. Reputed to follow the ancient percepts laid down in the Natya Sastra, Khmer dance is sensual but spiritual, time-less and yet, so very reconstructivist (all YouTube videos). Extremely saddening, then, when you realize that it survived only by the barest of history’s strands.
Among other more secular narratives, Apsara dance takes particular delight in narrating stories from the Reamkher. Reamkher, or Rama Kirti in Sanskrit-isque middle-Khmer, is that unique Cambodian re-telling of one of Hinduism’s oldest epics, the Ramayana (a quick pictorial summary here).
The reconstructivist take comes on the character Hanuman, that monkey-god who, after finding duty and devotion in the service of Lord Rama, leapt across the seas, battled demons, built bridges, and brought mountains home. What Valmiki didn’t know was that he also once fell in love with a mermaid princess, Souvanna Machcha (literally, the ‘golden fish’), with whom he first fought, but later attempted to woo.