Phnom Penh Theater Festival Showcases Evolution of an Art On Stage at

The second edition of the French Cultural Center’s Interna­tional Theater Festival starts tonight with a group of actors taking a Cambodian tale into the 21st century.

Staged by French director Catherine Marnas, the story of “Female and Male Partridges” is told in bold strokes that leave out all but the essentials of the plot and make the characters both deeply human and timeless.

The legend of two partridges, whose discord is resolved after they are reincarnated as humans, opens the festival and will be presented every night at the Chenla Theater through Oct 9.

Performances will range from Burmese dancing marionettes presented by the Htwe Oo Myanmar company on Monday to a dance by the Laotian company Cabaret Lao on Oct 8, to the play “Maha­janok Never Say Die” by the Thai Mak­hampom Theater Group on Sunday.

Cambodian contributions will include a colored shadow puppet rendering of the “Churning of the Sea of Milk” by the Nguon Samath company and seven premieres. One of them will be “A Strange Fish­erman,” which Soeur Thava­rak’s company will stage in Lak­haon Trab, or mime. This Western form of theater was brought to Cambo­dia in the 1950s, Soeur Thavarak said. Although he learned mime and staged several performances in the early 1980s, it is now rarely performed, he said. To be presented Sunday, the play will be performed in a version of the technique he has adapted to the Cam­bodian context.

The Wat Khen Svay Kraov company will stage “The Story of Prince Cheytot” in Lakhaon Pol Srei style on Saturday. Director Chen Neak said he discovered this theater form by masked female dancers in a nearly 200-year-old Khmer book, the text faded and barely readable, that he found in Kandal province in the early 1990s.

Chen Neak said he believes that Pol Srei theater was performed as long ago as the 17th century, when Udong was Cambo­dia’s capital.

Although similar to Cambodian classical dance, Pol Srei calls for dancers to move a great deal faster than in traditional ballet, Chen Neak said.

In tonight’s play by award-winning director Marnas, the actors attempt to make Cambodia’s traditional spoken theater evolve naturally into today’s theater, she said. Such a journey must be done within a country’s artistic context and through the exchange of ideas—not by imposing foreign concepts, Marnas said. Music during the play starts with traditional sounds and turns contemporary as the story develops.

Performances will be presented, when required, with French and English subtitles, and with Khmer subtitles when not staged in Khmer. Shows start at 6:30 each night.

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