Cambodian Arts Poised to Take New York by Storm

Group aims to make culture Cambodia’s signature export

Before now, the idea of holding a major Cambodian arts festival in New York City hardly seemed possible.

“For a whole year, with my bag, my laptop, tie and jacket, I’ve been crisscrossing New York to convince people to help us with this project,” said Phloeun Prim, executive director of Cambodian Living Arts, who was asked nearly two years ago by his NGO to turn this dream into a reality.

But today, the first tangible step toward holding this festival in two years is being taken with the ar­rival of representatives from some of New York’s major cultural institutions.

For the next few days, they will be treated to an overview of to­day’s art scene in the country, from classical and contemporary dance to visual arts, film and circus arts.

Planned for April or May 2013, “Season of Cambodia” is an initiative launched by Cambodian Li­ving Arts with the ultimate goal of making culture Cambodia’s signature export, Mr Prim said.

“It’s the history of my country that I want to illustrate,” he said. “I believe that it’s not so much about bringing the coconut dance to Lincoln Center, but to try to present not only what truly is of international caliber but also what is being conceived, what is being developed: All this contemporary work, which is Cambodia’s current context.”

Devising the festival’s program will take careful planning on the part of the multi-art team he is now forming, Mr Prim said. One goal of the US representatives’ visit is to create partnerships between New York’s institutions and organizations in Cambodia so that they can plan events together, Mr Prim said.

This first delegation includes Elena Park from the Metropolitan Opera, who has been involved in the project from the start, Joseph Melillo of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Stanford Makishi of New York City Center and Ben Pryor of Dance/USA.

Between now and Monday night, they will be treated to a series of mini-performances ranging from classical dance at the Royal Palace to hip hop staged by Tiny Toones. They will also visit the Bophana Audio­visual Re­source Center and tour the art and design show “Salon des createurs.”

Traveling to Battambang City, they will view art happenings held by Phare Ponleu Selpak’s artists and attend a choreographed circus show given by the NGO’s circus company.

“They are really going to be inundated with information,” said Fred Frumberg of Amrita Per­forming Arts, who will coordinate and produce the performing arts program for the festival.

“We simply hope that they’re going to be intrigued enough by what they’re seeing that they will commit themselves to being part of the festival.”

Organizers hope to involve ve­nues and galleries throughout New York, Mr Frumberg said.

“This is really not about once again presenting Cambodia be­cause of a tragic legacy, but presenting Cambodia because its artists are now on the international scene and can be taken as seriously as artists anywhere else in Asia.”

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