Earth in Flower

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Earth in Flower - The Divine Mystery of the Cambodian Dance Drama
Earth in Flower-Bookcover.jpg
Earth in Flower - The Divine Mystery of the Cambodian Dance Drama
Author Paul Cravath
Cover artist Jean Despujols
Country USA
Language English
Genre Non-fiction History
Publisher DatASIA (US)
Publication date
May 2008
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 544 pp - Includes bibliography and index
ISBN 978-1-934431-28-3 (US hardback edition)
OCLC 232161171
LC Class GV1703.C3 C73 2007

Earth in Flower is a 2008 book, a historical analysis of Khmer classical dance formerly known as the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. Over the past millennium, the women performers were living goddesses, priestesses, performers, queens, concubines, hostages and diplomats.

Research history

A wartime twist of fate during Cambodia's tumultuous Lon Nol regime made University of Hawaii researcher Paul Cravath one of the only Westerners in history to gain full access to the formerly sequestered troupe of royal dancers, their teachers, theater and archives. Following primary research in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, the author spent ten years doing archival and primary research in the United States. After submitting the study as his doctoral thesis, the paper was only seen by a handful of researchers on microfilm available from UMI.
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The primary sources that the Cambodian Ministry of Culture made available to the author where themselves unique. Even more critical was the time he gathered the information; between January and April, 1975. The author escaped Phnom Penh on a military transport with his research intact on April 6, 1975; the city fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 15, beginning one of the most destructive genocides in human history. Under the Khmer Rouge, most of the people and archives the author accessed were destroyed. It is estimated that 90% of Cambodia's dancers and teachers perished.

Beginning in 2005, the publisher and author collaborated to issue a publicly available edition of this research to add to the cultural record of the Cambodian people. The book edition of Earth in Flower contains the complete original thesis with additional photos, new graphics, and supplemental information.


The Meadows Museum of Art granted permission to feature Jean Despujols's artwork on the cover of Earth in Flower.[citation needed]

In the 1930s, Saem was a dancer with Princess Wongat Say Sangvann’s royal troupe in Phnom Penh. The princess married the youngest son of King Sisowath Monivong, Prince Yong Kath, when she herself was a royal dancer. Saem’s skill impressed the princess, who adopted her as a foster child. In 1937, Despujols painted Saem on the Rainbow Bridge at Angkor Wat where special dance performances were held; she holds her right hand in the classic gesture symbolizing a flower.

The interior page layout concept for this book was designed and developed by Sue Balcer.[citation needed]

Saem's "Cinderella story" embodies the history of the Cambodian dance tradition and the hope of Cambodia’s future. In ancient times, girls from all levels of society pledged their service to temples and to learning the dance. Saem's devotion to the art led to her royal adoption. Her story speaks to the modern Spirit of Cambodia, empowering women and men from every level in society to participate in the Khmer Renaissance.[citation needed]


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Books and articles citing Earth in Flower

External links