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The Tenth Dancer
History of the Project
Interview with the Filmmaker :: Sally Ingleton
International Film Festivals
The Dancers
Background Politics
Cultural Background
Sally Ingleton Writes About Making the Film
Movie Clip
Where to Buy
The Tenth Dancer

Background Politics
From the 9th -15th centuries Cambodia, then termed the Angkor Empire, ruled much of mainland South East Asia. Parts of what are today Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam were under the rule of the Angkorean Kings. It was a glorious age and the Khmers were masters of temple building, water irrigation and artistic endeavours. But by the mid fifteenth century the Empire was in decline. The Thai and the Vietnamese had extended their areas of influence, usurping large tracts of land. These traditional rivalries between Cambodia and her nearest neighbours still exist and continue to play an important role in the politics of the region.
In the mid 1850's the French colonialists arrived and declared Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia a French protectorate. The French remained in Indochina until 1953 when Cambodia gained independence. Under the leadership of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia was propelled into the modern age. Sihanouk abdicated from the monarchy and became Head of State.
Despite popular support for Sihanouk there were sections of the population who disagreed with his emphasis on city development at the expense of the peasant class. His opponents were imprisoned, forcing many to flee to the mountains to begin the origins of what became the Khmer Rouge.
Meanwhile next door in Vietnam, the war between the North and the South escalated. As the United States purged the strongholds of the Viet Cong, Sihanouk in a gesture of nationalistic support invited the Vietnamese communists to use parts of Cambodia as routes for their arms. The United States responded in 1969 by bombing the VC sanctuaries inside Cambodia.
In 1970, under a US backed coup Sihanouk was ousted as Head of State and replaced by Lon Nol under whose rule corruption was the currency. Fortunes were made by trading arms on the black market and pocketing the salaries of fictional armies. For Cambodian people this was a period of constant unrest as the US continued its bombing until 1973, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands from their homelands. Many fled to the overcrowded city of Phnom Penh or joined up with the Khmer Rouge.
By the time the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975 people were relieved and hoped the new Government would clean up and rebuild Cambodia.
Their hopes were shattered.
Between April 17 1975 and January 1979 over one million Cambodians lost their lives under the regime of Pol Pot. Some were executed whilst the majority died of illness and starvation. The targets were city people - 'new people', the educated or cultured classes who may have had connections with the previous regime. Pol Pot envisaged a new age for Cambodian society. To achieve this the past had to be erased. 1975 was Year Zero.
Pol Pot's revolution was a dismal failure and by 1979 they were driven to the Thai border by the forces of Vietnam who immediately installed a Government and stationed over 10,000 troops in Cambodia to protect the people from a return of the Khmer Rouge.
With freedom restored thousands of malnourished Cambodians made their way to the Thai border in search of a new life, food and medical care. Many left because they feared another communist regime especially one backed by Vietnam, the traditional enemy.
Since 1979, three factions opposed the Vietnamese backed Hun Sen government. These included the Sihanoukists; the non Communist Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF); and the Khmer Rouge - still led by the same leaders. A civil war continued until 1991, when a United Nations sponsored Peace Plan was signed by all four factions who agreed to hold democratic elections in Cambodia under the auspice of the UN. Despite non cooperation by the Khmer Rouge a successful election was held in May 1993 with more than 90% of registered voters casting ballots.
A joint administration was set up with both the HUN SEN Cambodia People's Party and the Royalist FUNCINPEC Parties sharing power.
A Constitutional monarchy was reestablished with King Sihanouk as Head of State and his son Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen sharing Prime Ministerial positions.
Pol Pot died in 1998 and since then the Khmer Rouge have lost their power base.
In recent years Cambodia has continued to suffer with constant corruption at high Government levels a battle for power, and a coup which forced Prince Ranariddh to leave the country.
Cultural Background
The culture of Cambodia has always been central to the life of the people. With a rich tradition in music, theatre, shadow puppetry and dance it has been the latter which has inspired the population for centuries and to this day remains a strong symbol for the beauty of the spirit of the Khmer people.
During the Angkor Kingdom the concept of 'divine royalty' existed. The GOD KING or Deva Raja included dance as a sacred part of the role of worship. The dancers were called deva dasi or 'the messengers of god' and their lives were dedicated to performing ritual dances in front of the idols. With feeling and soul the dancers used their movements, gestures and postures as a sacred language to communicate to the world of the gods. Through these dances the King maintained his allegiance to the great spirit and in return was assured prosperity and harmony for his people. The figures of these apsaras or dancing maidens were carved on the walls of Angkor Wat, the immense temple monument built by King Suryavarman II.
After the fall of Angkor and in the following eras the dance and its cultural role was simplified. Incorporated into the Royal Court, the dancers became a private harem for some of the Kings. Nevertheless the integrity of the dance has remained and in Cambodia today these images are national symbols and hold great meaning as they typify the beauty and spirit of the country and the peoples' unique relationship with the gods.
Like most indigenous people the culture has an oral tradition. Nothing was written down or formally recorded. Although in recent decades the country has been devastated by war the artistic traditions continued to be passed on from generation to generation.
Much of this came to an abrupt holt when the Khmer Rouge came to power in April 1975. With a radical political philosophy designed to reform the country, purges began almost immediately which aimed to transform the population back to a peasant culture. Artists were amongst those who the regime signalled as a threat to the new way of thinking.
By 1979 over 90% of all performers and musicians had either been killed or had fled the country.
In 1981 the School Of Fine Arts was established in Phnom Penh by the Hun Sen Government. Most of the pupils at the School were orphans who could choose to study classical or folk dancing, or traditional music.
Since then over a hundred students have been trained at the School. Many now perform in the National Dance Theatre, Cambodia's Professional Dance troupe. Dancers from both groups have toured Europe, the USA, Australia and many of the former Eastern bloc countries in the last decade.
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