Contemporary Cambodian Dance Comes to Chenla Theater

The dance choreographed by Chumvan Sodhachivy, known as Belle, to be presented at Phnom Penh’s Chenla Theater later this week, is essentially young, fast-paced and high-energy. At times plain fun, at others serious in tone, the show entitled “Knhom Chhmuos,” or “My Name Is,” mixes contemporary classical dance and popular styles in a series of sketches that examine the nature of individuality.

Some segments are spectacular, such as the opening scene depicting birth out of a lotus flower. Others prove unexpected, like the tap-dance number performed by the male dancers in shorts and white sandals.

Their strikingly colorful shorts are no mere costume fancy. They were designed by each dancer—trained in Khmer classical dance as becomes obvious during the performance—to illustrate the various ways each of us use to define who we are, Belle ex­plained Saturday.

The sandals are a salute to Cambodia’s countryside, where they are widely used, she said. One scene reminiscent of classic US Broadway shows in which Ms Belle wears a sparkling green hat and boots is meant to evoke city life in Phnom Penh today, she said.

Another scene she performs blindfolded with three male dan­cers is a reminder that every person is an individual with his own name and personality, whether or not he is physically handicapped.

The show was inspired by the fact that so many Cambodians have the same names, Ms Belle said. “During my first year at university, in a class of 40 students, we had three guys called Sovan­nara. So we tried to add something like ‘Sovannara long hair,’ ‘Sovannara dark skin,’ ‘Sovannara tall,’” to differentiate them, she said.

The show is also about trying to be oneself in the face of society’s demands for conformity, especially where women are concerned, she added.

One of the country’s leading contemporary dancers, Belle studied Cambodian classical dance at the Royal University of Fine Arts, where she now teaches choreography part time. The 26-year-old dancer has performed abroad in several contemporary works inspired by Cambodian classical dance and taken part in international choreography workshops. This show is supported by the Institut francais, formerly the French cultural center in Phnom Penh, where Ms Belle was artist in residence last year.

The dance is filled with the un­usual: dancers jumping on and off stage, two dancers having a dialogue, and Ms Belle singing. This makes for a fast-paced work bound to appeal to those expecting a performance by top contemporary dancers as well as those simply looking for quality entertainment.

The music is mainly a mixture of existing pieces of various styles and moods. However, for the last number, performed by the whole cast, the music was composed at Belle’s request by Phanna Nam, known on the hip-hop and break-dance scene as Peanut. “I really wanted something with energy and emotions” that would mix fast and slow pace, she said.

“My Name Is” starts at 7 pm Friday and Saturday. Admission is free.

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