Tradition and the Contemporary Fuse in New Cambodian Dance

A pair of Cambodian choreographers explore the mind and the body in two new dance creations for “Dansez Roam!” a performance taking place Friday and Saturday at Phnom Penh’s Chenla Theater.

Chey Chankethya, 24, created “Teav,” a story about a girl’s struggle to balance traditional desires and responsibilities with living in a modern society. The evening also includes “Body and Spirit,” a two-person performance by Phon Sop­heap, which looks at the growth and changes of the human body over a lifetime.

“Everyday life inspired me to create ‘Teav,’” Ms Chankethya said, adding that in Asian societies wo­men are often regarded as having a “lower status.”

The combination of classical Khmer and contemporary dance techniques is not the only blend Ms Chankethya uses to tell her story. She also employs traditional instruments and modern technology in the form of a projection screen that will be showing video projections as part of the stage scenery.

“We should have more technical elements to offer the audience more flavors, more variety,” she said.

Ms Chankethya previously studied choreography and art management at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the US and participated in workshops in Indonesia. From her experiences abroad, she learned different dance styles and techniques and wanted to share them in Cambodia. This desire was the reason why she decided to engage in choreography.

“If I just danced, I cannot say what I wanted,” she added.

After creating 10 original works, Ms Chankethya said “Teav” is her most ambitious project to date, in­volving performances by seven dancers who do not come from con­temporary dance backgrounds. She also played a big role in the creation of the video art projections.

“‘Teav’ is not a narrative, it’s the inner struggle of one person who faces a lot of things,” Ms Chanke­thya said. “Please don’t try to only see the movements, go beyond the movements. Body shape is nothing. Try to feel it and see the concept.”

Focusing on the human body pro­vided Mr Sopheap, the choreographer of “Body and Spirit,” with the unique challenge of translating human experiences, such as a guil­ty conscience or a baby needing to depend on someone else for survival, into dance moves.

“I am interested about the body from when it is still inside of the woman to the baby, then the child developing into a man,” he said.

Mr Sopheap, 30, said he developed a love of dance after growing up near the Royal University of Fine Arts and constantly seeing dancers train there. He began studying contemporary styles in 2006 and he said that even though these techniques are still new in Cambodia, both dancers and audiences are definitely catching on.

“I feel that is better than before,” he said. “I think the audiences know more about it now.”

Free tickets for “Dansez Roam!” are available at the library of the French Cultural Center and Amrita Performing Arts.



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