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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Performance, Practice, and Possibility: How Large-Scale Processes Affect the Bodily Economy of Cambodia's Classical Dancers

  • Author(s): Tuchman-Rosta, Celia
  • Advisor(s): Ness, Sally A
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

Classical dance has been tightly woven into discourses of national and international heritage as a representation of Cambodian cultural identity, particularly after the country’s devastating civil war in the 1970s. This dissertation articulates how Cambodia’s classical dancers and teachers negotiate the effects of large-scale processes, such as heritage development policies, on the art form and their bodies. Several scholars and dancers have developed perspectives on the revitalization efforts of the classical dance form in the period after the Khmer Rouge Regime, but this dissertation fills a gap in the documentation of the role that international nongovernmental organizations and tourism have on dance production.

The dissertation research in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in 2011 and 2012 traced the training and performance activities of practitioners at a broad range of arts NGOs and tourism venues to examine the large-scale processes that affected the lives of practitioners. To demonstrate the deeply woven connections among global heritage, tourism, NGOs, nationhood and Cambodia’s dance artists, this dissertation first articulates the process through which classical dance transformed from ritual practice to global commodity while maintaining ritual functions. Second, it demonstrates how practitioners navigate their personal corporeal economies—the labor of practice and performance—to balance the benefits of their bodily work with the possible alienation of their bodies being commoditized. Third, it shows how UNESCO intangible heritage directives are interpreted and embedded in local context, creating paradoxes for dance practitioners. Fourth,it develops a web-based model for understanding classical dance production, preservation and development in Cambodia—a social web that practitioners must navigate to survive. And finally, it further develops Bruner’s (2005) borderzone concept, expanding it into a borderzone field, to analyze the experiences of both audiences and performers in tourist settings.

The amalgamated framework proposed in the dissertation, including tourism, heritage, development, and economic theory is necessary to peel away layers of phenomena from the global to the local while unpacking their links to the lived experiences of classical dance practitioners.

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