Monday, November 25, 2013

Contemplating Lao Dance

How do we cultivate and grow an interest in Lao traditional dance? In many ways, there's little research on it that I am tempted to say we also have some latitude to innovate and take Lao dance in new directions now, completely distinct from our South and Southeast Asian roots. But this is always a scary proposition to some. I think it will become increasingly essential if we are to remain a global people.

But let's take an interesting cue from the Thai scholar Mattani Rutnin, who noted in 1993:
Thai dancers, in both the folk and classical styles, hold their bodies straight from the neck to the hips in a vertical axis and move their bodies up and down with their knees bent, stretching to the rhythm of the music. Indian dancers, on the other hand, often move their bodies in an S curve. The arms and hands in Thai dancing are kept in curves, or wong, at different levels, high medium or low, and the legs are bent with the knees opening outward to make an angle called liem (lit., angles) ... The grace and beauty of the dancer depends on how well these curves and angles are maintained in relationship with the proportion of the whole body.
How might we characterize the movements of Lao dance then?

The Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website also noted: 
"Furthermore, Mattani adds that the Indian mudras are simplified in Thai dance to a few basic hand gestures, which when combined with dance gestures (phasa ta), can denote the actions and, especially, the moods of the characters. She also notes that the foot movements of Thai dance are generally slower than in India and, furthermore, that in Thai dance the toes are mostly curved upward or kept flat at an angle with the legs, but never pointed, as they sometimes are in Indian dance. These differences may be interpreted as signifying that the Thai adopted their dance tradition, not directly from India, but from their neighbours, the Khmer and the Mon, in an already localised form."

Unfortunately, their material on Lao dance is very limited and more work needs to be done:

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