Modern African Dance Master Gives Workshop in Phnom Penh

For Cambodian classical dancer Nuon Kaza, the African dance workshop given this week by re­nowned Senegalese dancer Ger­maine Acogny was at first rather strange, and just plain painful, even though she had previously been a contemporary dancer.

“I was nervous and felt shy to move my chest, hips and bottom in very fast movements: I had never done that before,” said the 21-year-old, who is with the Khmer Arts Academy’s dance company.

Moreover, Nuon Kaza said, “After the first and second rehear­sal, I really had muscle aches. My whole body hurt. I had never really used those muscles…because in [Cambodian] traditional and classical dance, you keep your body straight and only move your arms and legs.”

But if the dance rehearsal Thurs­day was any indication, the Cambo­dian dancers have recovered from their initial surprise. On Thursday they had huge smiles on their faces as they undulated their bodies to the rhythm of drumbeats, integrating Cambodi­an-style arm and leg movements.

Since Monday, Acogny has been teaching her modern-dance technique to Cambodian performers—more than 30 male and female dancers—while her Senegalese colleague, Oumar Fandy Diop, showed modern African drumming to more than 10 Cambodian musicians. The dances and music created during the two workshops will be presented tonight at Gasoli­na Restaurant.

The workshops and show were organized by the Reyum Institute through the Network Partnership Program of the Prince Claus Fund, Reyum Director Ly Dara­vuth said.

Often described as the mother of contemporary African dance, award-winner Acogny is founder and artistic director of the Jant-Bi dance company and the international dance school Ecole des Sables in Senegal. She has danced Western classical ballet and worked for several years with legendary modern-dance choreographer Maurice Bejart.

Diop, who comes from a long line of traditional drummers, is the musical director of Acogny’s dance company and school.

When using her technique, Acogny said, “One must keep in mind the image of a tree, profoundly rooted and taking nourishment in the ground and in the sky; that is, to be open, willing to learn…while remaining oneself.”

The swaying movements she teaches are also inspired by na­ture—a serpent’s undulations—which rid body and mind of rigidity, she said.


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