When Kim Sathia found herself wheelchair-bound eight years ago, she banished dancing from her life. She had been one of the country’s premier dancers, traveling across the country and around Asia to perform traditional and classical Khmer dance for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. But after her injury in 1997—in a car crash that left her immobile from the waist down—she gave all that up.
But on Sunday, Kim Sathia took to the stage once again, for a performance that integrated able-bodied dancers and Cambodia’s first professional disabled dancers, and fused traditional Khmer and Western contemporary dance and music.
Kim Sathia starred along with Sophara—a deaf performer who mimes and draws his way across the stage—and other Cambodian and expatriate artists, including masters of Khmer traditional music.
Her hand gestures and body postures alternately suggested Apsara dance and modern movements, while other dancers spun and turned as they danced around her and even did flips off of her wheelchair.
The performance, which was held at Sovanna Phum Theater, was titled “The Return”—an adaptation of a Khmer folk tale about an abused dog who terrorizes other animals by posing as a wolf until a gentle hand helps reintegrate him into society.
That story of integration, and of what can be accomplished with an open mind, is what the performance was all about, said Katie MacCabe, the show’s organizer and a co-founder of Epic Arts, which was behind the production.
Epic Arts was founded in England to integrate people with and without disabilities through the arts, MacCabe said. When she moved to Cambodia in 2003, she found the need for such a program was even greater here.
“I wanted to change people’s perception of physical disability,” she said, noting that some Buddhists believe a physical disability is karmic retribution for a misdeed.
“You can change beliefs through experience—if you see someone do something that you thought they could not do, then it changes your ideas.”
MacCabe hopes to take the show on tour within Cambodia in December and eventually to bring the production abroad.