In 1906, King Sisowath of Cambodia visited France, bringing with him his royal party that numbered over a hundred people, including dancers, musicians and princes.
This was the first time that Cambodian classical dance was performed in Europe and the arrival of the royal party was eagerly anticipated, not least by Rodin, who managed to see the dancers first perform at a gala in Paris. Enamoured, Rodin travelled with the royal party back to Marseille, and over a few days in July 1906 produced over a hundred drawings of the dancers.
In this essay, Stephen Feeke and Ramsay Burt discuss the potent combination of rhythm and ritual that seems to have interested Rodin: the dancers' lithe, sinuous bodies, their controlled, deliberate movements, and the dislocated gestures of their arms, hands and fingers.
From Rodin's own accounts, his meeting with the dancers was the apotheosis of his preoccupation with nature movement and classicism. Moreover, the event reveals much about Rodin himself - his persona and his reputation.
This essay was written to accompany the exhibition Rodin: Rhythm and Ritual (24 September 1998 - 3 January 1999, Gallery 4).
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