Royal Ballet Archive Exhibition at IFC

Thursday sees the opening of an exhibition dedicated to the extraordinary photographic work of George Groslier, Director of Cambodian Arts and General Inspector of Arts in Indochina in the 1920s. The exhibition, created by the National Museum of Cambodia and the French School of the Far East (EFEO), with the support of the French Institute of Cambodia (IFC) and UNESCO, is being held at the gallery at the IFC.

On the opening night of the exhibition two dancers from the Royal Ballet, dressed in costumes in the style of the early 20th century, will interpret dances from the era of Groslier’s archive.

Entitled Kbach Roam, Dance Patterns, this exhibition sheds new light on George Groslier’s extensive collection of glass plate photographic negatives. the exhibition displays the comprehensive archive of work produced to document and commemorate the Royal Ballet.

In 1927 Groslier founded and became the first director of the National Museum. As such he realised that the Royal Ballet was in danger of extinction, he undertook the exceptional task of documenting it photographically in order to preserve the dance poses of that era for posterity. This photographic inventory coincided with HM King Sisowath’s desire to reorganise and conserve the Royal Ballet. A commission was set up involving Cambodian dance specialists to create a photographic archive of all the traditional poses. Five lead dancers – Nou Nam, Ith, Anong Nari, Kievan and Suon – in male nearong, female neang, monkey sva, or giant yeak costume, create pose after pose, sometimes in pairs – were then immortalised by the camera.

Long neglected, the entire archive of two frame glass plate negatives has recently been catalogued and digitised. In 2012 a previous exhibition presented this work to the public in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and then in Paris and New York.

The IFC approached the exhibition of these images from a different perspective. About 20 carefully selected photographic prints have been made from the negatives especially for the occasion. These prints were chosen to demonstrate the importance that Groslier attached to the process of capturing the gestures and poses of the dancers through very precise documentary photography.

The digitised archive – almost 500 images on 250 plates – will be shown in its entirety alongside the chosen prints.

The exhibition runs until September 7 at the gallery of the French Institute
#218, St. 184