In his book “Apsaras: Cambodian heavenly dancers,” Arjay Stevens aims to show that a dance tradition in Cambodia has endured for at least 1,000 years.
This he does by placing full-page photos of dancers sculpted on the walls of Angkorian-era monuments next to photos of today’s Khmer classical dancers in traditional costumes.
And the German photographer, whose book is being launched Saturday at Monument Books in Phnom Penh, does not stop at the well-known scenes on the walls and columns of Angkor Wat. As he demonstrates, dancers also feature prominently on Wat Nokor at the 12th century site of Banteay Prei Nokor near Kompong Cham city, as well as on the small Ta Som monument in Angkor Archeological Park.
Mr. Stevens has been photographing Angkorian sculptures and today’s classical dancers since he first visited Cambodia in 1996.
“You see, I photographed the bas-reliefs, I photographed the dances. But I had never seen a book that combined these,” he said.
“When people would talk about apsaras [dancers], it was at Angkor Wat,” Mr. Stevens said. “For most people, it is the only place to find them. But this is absolutely not true. You can find them at many temples in Angkor park as well as at other Angkorian-era monuments in the country.”
A biologist and medical-biology researcher by profession, Mr. Stevens has been taking photos since his first visit, and he estimates that his collection now exceeds more than 1 million images.
The book consists of short texts in English and German and full-page photos, usually with one of an Angkorian bas-relief on the left and today’s dancer or dancers on the right-hand side. Several photos feature details such as elaborate headdresses and ankle bracelets.