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Photographs Intimately Depict Life of Cambodian Classical Dancer


Visitors point to photos of Em Theay, now 85, taken by photographer Aray Steven, on display at National Museum in Phnom Penh, November 1, 2015. (Photo: Phorn Bopha/VOA Khmer)

Visitors point to photos of Em Theay, now 85, taken by photographer Aray Steven, on display at National Museum in Phnom Penh, November 1, 2015. (Photo: Phorn Bopha/VOA Khmer)

An exhibit of the project is currently running at the Bophana Center in Phnom Penh.

A new book of photography depicts the world of a Cambodian classical dancer. The photographer, Aray Steven, met the dancer Em Theay, more than a decade ago, and the two have been working on the project since then.

Em Theay, now 85, survived the Khmer Rouge, after becoming a dancer at the age of eight.

The photographs depict the graceful gestures and ornate costumes of Cambodian dance, which Unesco has described as a masterpiece of heritage. An exhibit of the project is currently running at the Bophana Center in Phnom Penh.

Em Theay, who had once danced for the king, was sent to Battambang province by the Khmer Rouge. She resumed her career when the regime collapsed and is now a professor at the Royal University of Fine Arts, in Phnom Penh. She has even been honored by the Cambodian government, as a master of heritage.

Em Theay poses for photos at the book launch and photo exhibit at National Museum in Phnom Penh, November 1, 2015. (Photo: Phorn Bopha/VOA Khmer)

Em Theay poses for photos at the book launch and photo exhibit at National Museum in Phnom Penh, November 1, 2015. (Photo: Phorn Bopha/VOA Khmer)

“Dancing, teaching and singing are her life,” Stevens said during the launch of the book at the National Museum recently. “Em Theay feels deeply committed to this unique art and to passing it on to the next generation. That was not easy at all, under the circumstances at the time.”

Stevens and Em Theay met in Cambodia in 1997 and again in Berlin in 2002. The long-term project then began, culminating in the book, which includes text in English, French, German and Khmer.

“I honor her by this exhibition, with photographs,” Stevens said.

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