Cambodia’s Biggest Youth Arts Festival Ever Begins This Week

Preparations are under way for the country’s largest ever youth arts festival, with stars from the rock opera “Where Elephants Weep” performing a benefit concert at 7 pm on Tuesday to raise money for the festival, organizers said.

The three-day Cambodian Youth Arts Festival, which starts Saturday at Chaktomuk Theater, will bring together some 500 young people from 24 arts organizations across ten provinces for workshops and performances, said Prim Phloeun, executive director of Cambodian Living Arts, which organized the festival.

“We want to engage more people in understanding their own culture and identity…. It will showcase Cambodian arts from before, today and tomorrow,” Mr Phloeun said.

The diverse performers, who include ethnic minorities from Ratanakkiri and disabled artists from Kampot–use different styles, ranging from traditional Khmer to modern pop. The arts groups will learn from each other during daytime workshops–for example, traditional apsara dancers will teach moves to Tiny Toones breakdancers, who in turn will teach hip-hop to wedding musicians.

International performers Diane Phelan and Marc de la Cruz said that the benefit concert for the festival brought them back to Cambodia, where two years ago they took lead roles in “Where Elephants Weep,” the nation’s first Broadway-style show, which combined Khmer traditional music with rock.

“It was the perfect opportunity to perform the music again and reunite with the musicians,” said Mr de la Cruz, who played a Cambodian-American returning home in the 1990s.

Rehearsals for the concert at the Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Center have been emotional and brought back memories of the original production, he said.

Both “Where Elephants Weep” and the youth arts festival share a vision to not just support traditional arts but also inspire emerging voices in Cambodian arts, said the rock opera’s executive producer, John Burt, who helped arrange the benefit concert.

“It marries [the] Western pop and rock heard so prevalently here with traditional Cambodian music to create a new voice of Cambodia,” he said.


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