Choreographer Takes Local Dancers to New Realms

The production follows Cambodian dancers’ transition to a contemporary style

A contemporary dance production being created by European choreographer Arco Renz previewed at Phnom Penh’s Chenla Theater on Saturday, ahead of its premiere at the Singapore Arts Festival next year.

The production, still a work in progress after being conceived during a recent three-week workshop, maps seven Cambodian dancers moving into new creative territory through an introduction to Western contemporary dance techniques, Mr Renz said.

Mr Renz, who founded Brus­sels-based production company Kobalt Works, said he came from a different world than that of the classically trained Cambo­dia dancers.

During the workshop, he was “trying to create an intermediate planet where we can land together,” he said. The dance “will be a strange unidentified foreign object: a Cambodian UFO.”

Mr Renz said he was careful not to impose a definition of contemporary dance during re­hearsals, but instead tried to give the dancers tools for further development.

Working with Mr Renz was the first time producer Amrita Performing Arts had steered away from ‘safe’ choreographers with backgrounds in Asia, its executive director Fred Frum­berg said.

“It was a real stretch and a real risk,” Mr Frumberg said, noting that in Asia a conflict exists be­tween preserving traditions and moving into the contemporary. “In Cambodia especially it’s a very touchy topic because the revival and preservation process post-war is not really finished.”

However, young dancers Chey Chankethya, “Belle” Chum­van Sodhachivy, Chy Ra­tana, Ngeth Rady, Phon So­pheap, Vuth Chanmoly and Yon Davy were ready to take the leap, he said.

Dancer and teacher Ms Chan­kethya said she found the new techniques used during rehear­sals very interesting. “It’s about basic structures that allow dancers to develop more and more,” she said. “It can work as a process to give us tools.”

The production, sponsored by the Goethe Institute Jakarta, will premiere at the Singapore Arts Festival on May 14.

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