dance cambodia

An exchange of art and culture which carries with it a message of peace and caring.

Archive for June, 2009

Last last day in Phnom Penh for 3 of us

Tuesday 23rd June

In the morning we went to a gallery in Phnom Penh to see an exhibition of photographs of a very well known housing project that is under threat of being torn down. It houses some of Phnom Penh’s poorest inhabitants. Many of the students (that you see in the photos) that attend music and dance classes at Cambodian Living Arts live in that building.

Mei and I went with Mong to pick up some copies that Fred Frumberg had made for us of an Asian Pacific dance newsletter containing information about the connections between many countries in Asia including Cambodia, India Malaysia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia, Hong Kong and others. It’s wonderful to get a perspective on what’s going on in the East in the dance scene. It would be incredible to have some kind of gathering of dance people from East and West. This is something to seriously consider for the future. A huge project, but a very exciting one. Hmmmmmmmm .. food for thought. Perhaps a wonderful thing to do to show our solidarity and to tell the world how much dance and dance practitioners have to offer to the world at this point in time.

We also bought Mong a very nice white shirt as a present for looking after us so well during our stay here. If anyone comes to Cambodia we have Mong’s e-mail address and we can highly recommend him as a safe and big-smiling companion during your stay. He told us he drives his tuk tuk in the ‘countryside’ style. The village where he lives is just outside Phnom Penh. And it’s true, we noticed that his style of driving is much less aggressive than many of the drivers in the city. You have to be a little pushy as most people seem to take NO notice of any kind of rules on the road. As we said before cross roads are a free for all, and bikes, tuk tuks, motor bikes, cars, busses and lorries are all looking for space to cross. It’s an insane and somewhat intimidating choreography. But don’t let this put you off in any way. It’s a reflection of the way things happen around here, and because of this there is plenty of room for exciting adventures to happen. Our trip developed through being here, and connecting with different people. One thing has led to another. If you stay open, alert and ready there are worlds of experience to be had.
I highly recommend a trip to Cambodia to everyone!

In the afternoon yesterday we taught a 2hr workshop to the staff of the 3 Boddhi Tree Guest houses. Manuel the owner organized it for his staff.
We taught on the wooden stage of Savanna Phun (where we saw the shadow puppet performances). We got there before they arrived and cleared away the red ants that seemed to be making some kind of nest on the stage! It was hotter than you can believe and we were extremely surprised when a group of 20+ people ranging in age arrived. When we sat and introduced ourselves it was also surprising to see that everyone in the company from the house keepers to the assistant manager, the book keepers, the chefs and the restaurant staff came!
We did a demonstration of improvisation for them, and then we invited them to do some stretching, some Tai Chi and partner exercises including handstands and cartwheels, partner stretching, simple lifts and ended with nice relaxing body work . They were all extremely game and gave everything a try. Seeing as none of them were dancers they did brilliantly and much of what we did was alien to them and their culture. They all seemed very happy by the end as were we.

After the workshop Mong picked us up and took us to a spa in town where Manuel had booked all 5 of us in for a 1 ½ hr massages! What a treat, and a PERFECT way to end our trip.

Feeling relaxed and fully satisfied we went to a local restaurant that Mong suggested called Boat Noodle. We invited him to dinner with us, joking that it was Mong and the 6 ladies, which was met with a HUGE smile. Of course we plied him with a thousand questions. He told us that he would LOVE to start a business of his won, a restaurant.
We gave him his shirt which he said he would open when he got home.

Another FULLY SATISFYING day in Phnom Penh!

Wednesday 24th

Our final morning. I was up early enjoying the morning fresh air, before the heat descends! The black cat always pays me a visit in the morning. He guards the guest house. He must be a good fighter because one of his ears had had a severe battering. But he is in reality a TOTAL softy!

I just got a text from Manuel saying that the staff were delighted yesterday. This morning they are greeting us with added warmth. They are always warm and friendly but today they are brimming with smiles and ‘did you sleep well?’ and so on. What a beautiful race.
We have been delighted in turn to be able to dance with them. Manuel said that perhaps next time I can be a resident at the guest house and can give the staff regular classes in ‘the beauty of moving ones body to music’. Sounds good to me. I think I will change my class description to this title, except I would add ‘the beauty of moving ones body to music, and to the silence’. Have to work on that one a bit but it has great potential.

SO the last fw thigns to do this morning and then Mei, RuHong and I are Taipei bound. Laura, Renay and Ya-Ling have one more night and leave tomorrow. Ya-Ling does back to Singapore where she has another month of research, before she returns to Taipei. Renay and Laura head for Rome.
I have one night in Taipei, the next night in London and the following day I leave for Italy, to a region called Puglis in S Italy where the next stage of our adventures begin. Sadly Mei and RuHong will not come to Italy this year. Mei has a perrformanc ein Hong Kong in a week’s time and then she heads off to Colorado to a summer dance festival, taking some of her students from Taipei.
Renay, Laura and I will see each other in La Luna nel Pozzo where we will spend the next week dancing, dialoguing, eating, swimming together with a group of 16 international dancers and improvisers. 2 musicians Dorothy and Armand will be joining us from the University of Illinois, so we will be having some more joyous and fascinating exchanges. WE ARE SO LUCKY!!! AND WE MUST NEVER FORGET THIS FACT.
Bon Voyage……….,.

The White Building
The White Building

The White Building

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A selection of photos from this stay in Cambodia

The lovely house maid at Boddhi Tree Umma
The lovely house maid at Boddhi Tree Umma

Beautiful Buddha statue at National Museum
The Buddha statue in National Museum

Statue of female in National Museum
Statue of female in National Museum

Water lilly in the garden of the National Museum

Shadow puppet
Water lilly at the National Museum

Some of the staff at Boddhi Tree Umma guest house (the one in front was our main man in the workshop!)
SOme of the staff at the Boddhi Tree Umma guest house

Young audience at the shadow puppet performance
The performance at Savanaphum

Young Art students
Art students

Shadow puppet

Our last two days in Phnom Penh

After yesterday how could things get any better? Yet here in Cambodia each adventure leads to the next, and each one brings more heart ache, in the most human and positive sense, encouraging the heart to be pried open little by little.

Today we visited the art school in Phnom Penh where they have 4 years of study. The students don’t have to pay to go to the art school, and they are free to come and go as they wish. They study half the day at school and then come to the art school in the afternoon, so there are students at the school ranging in age from 13 – 27.
Their classes vary from traditional Cambodian painting to modern art and also video.
They have just a couple of teachers on salary. Once again it is very rudimentary.
We saw some examples of paintings done by a 14 year old that were incredible.
As with all the other foundations and schools we have visited in Cambodia this year has been very hard for them because of the global financial troubles. It seems the art school just manages to keep going through private donations.
In Cambodia there is no such thing as governmental support for the arts at all. The only institutions that are supported are the universities.

Painting done by a 14 year old
Painting done by a 14 year old

Young art student
Young art student

Art history teacher, and man that showed us around the school
The man that showed us around

Art student
Art student

We then visited Cambodian Living Arts for the second time to watch a music class.
We met one of the women Masters, the assistant Masters and some of the young students playing the traditional instruments. One of the girls translated our questions and told us about their music and the instruments. Her English was very good. We bought some of the CDs that the center produces of the Masters that teach there.
It seems this Master was one of the first women to become an accomplished traditional musician, and she is now teaching the next generation.

Master teaching the young boy on the big drums
Master teaching the young boy on the big drums

Master and students at Cambodian Living Arts
Master and students

More photos to follow tonight

At 4pm we went by tuktuk with faithful Mong, to an organization called Tiny Tunes. We arrived and walked into a place that was full of children of all ages practicing hip hop and break dancing to the beat of American style music. It was extremely hot and humid when we arrived and there was something incongruous about hearing the hip hop beat in this country. We sat down on the tiled floor feeling damp, sticky and dirty, which is something you get used to here in Phnom Penh, with the young people who were practicing their dance together, spinning on their heads, on their backs, on their arms, on their feet. In a word doing the most incredible and dangerous looking steps and acrobatic moves. Let’s say that I would not risk that kind of movement on the hard tiled floor. In the middle if the scene we saw KK – it was hard to tell his age but we found out later that he was only 32. Dressed in typical street gear, tattooed all over, and very concentrated on what was occurring within the circle of dancing.
We watched the dancing for an hour at least, and then KK suggested he show us round the building, that turned out to have a sound studio, a room where a DJ was training a young Cambodian man, a computer room, and a couple of class rooms. Some 8 children lived there permanently, and during the day the place is a school for the children, and in the evening it is a break dance and hip hop school. As I write this I realize you will have a very different image of the facilities as I try to describe them. In actuality it was all very rudimentary, old computer screens, very basic wooden desks and benches, little or no decoration, but clean and tidy.
KK told us his whole story.

KK in red hat and sweat pants with kids
KK in the red hat and sweat pants

KK and students at Tiny Toones in Phnom Penh
KK at Tiny Toones in Phnom Penh

Tiny Toones
Tiny Toones

Hearing KK’s story upstairs in the classroom
Talking with KK upstairs in the class room

He was a Cambodian American living in L.A. until about 5 years ago when he was deported from the US for gang related violence. He told us he had spent 11 years of his life in prison in the US. It seems he was in prison from the age of 16. (I remembered I had read an article about him in a magazine in the US)

When he came to Cambodia he changed his life. He began to help the poor street kids, first of all through another aid organization. Gradually, as the kids found out he could dance hip hop and breaking, they begged him to teach them.
There are now 7 such centers for street dance in Phnom Penh that he heads, and 5000 street kids are involved. He told us about how he changed his life. We asked about the effect this has had on his old friends and gang members in L.A.
He told us how in the gangs, he saw that the older members used the young kids to perpetrate their violence. He called them fakes. He told us how he had come to see that violence doesn’t work. We stood around him in the upstairs classroom as he talked in the gathering darkness. It was so deeply moving to see his vulnerability and absolute honesty. There was a great deal of love that emanated from him as spoke. I actually couldn’t believe what was happening, and the situation that had developed. This tough looking tattooed individual that could appear to be quite intimidating, was infact a soft and loving man. He also told us that he feared for his life always, because he knew there were people who wanted to prove themselves through bringing about his death. He said that he accepted all of this as his lot.
He had adopted and 4 year old boy whose parents were heavy drug users. And his whole life is now dedicated to helping the street children. To see someone who had transformed their life in this way made me want to bow down before him in gratitude, for the hope that someone like this gives to all of us. I thanked him from my heart.
This was another Cambodian adventure that has rocked my life. You cannot be unaffected by what happens in this country. It is truly remarkable.

It is late evening now, when Phnom Penh has cooled off just enough to feel comfortable. I am sitting at the table with RuHong and her friend Yen-Ling, RuHong’s friend from Taiwan who is an ‘almost famous’ anthropologist (I believe I told you all of this before!). I am always one of the last to bed and the first up. It’s too exciting being here to miss any of the action. People go to bed early in Phnom Penh. By 9pm there is quiet all around, and always a kind of deathly hush that surrounds this area from Toul Sleng Genocide museum directly across the road from the guest house. I like to be here so close to the constant reminder of the horror that has happened in this country.

Tomorrow is sadly our last day. We have some last things to do in the morning. In the afternoon we will be teaching the young men from the Boddhi Tree Guest houses. We will use the stage at Savanah Poon (the small theater where we saw the shadow puppets). Manuel the owner of the Boddhi Tree guest houses, is treating each of us to a 1 ½ hr massage in return for teaching his young men. I am sure it will be another amazing day.

Our Visit to the Harpswell Dormitory and Leadership Center for Women

Sunday 21st June

At 8.15 this morning Mong picked us up and took us to the Harpswell Dormitory for Women. A professor from one of the universities in Boston built the dormitory three years ago. The story is that he met a Cambodian woman in the US who had studied law in Phnom Penh, and had lived in the basement of the university while she was there. This is because for women who don’t live in Phnom Penh and have no extended family in the city, it is impossible to find somewhere to live. The young men that come from the provinces can live in the religious institutions during their studies, but this is not possible for women.
In response to meeting this young Cambodian lawyer in the US he decided to build a dormitory in Phnom Penh specifically for the brightest young women from the provinces, so they have somewhere to live, which allows them the opportunity to study at university. Over 1000 women apply to the dormitory each year and only 34 women are chosen. The young women who are often from extremely poor families can stay there for free while they are studying. (I hope I have got all my facts right here – you can check by looking at their web site: http://www.harpswellfoundation.org)
We spent the whole day with the women and with Vanna Peou, their dormitory mother, who obviously does extraordinary work with them.
These women are all studying at the universities in Phnom Penh. Their majors are in such subjects as law, economics, sociology, accounting and banking.
They are basically being educated and primed to be future leaders in Cambodia.
We knew that we were going to speak with them about leadership, and to dance for them and watch some of their dancing, but we never imagined that it would be such a moving and enthralling experience being together.
We all sat in their kitchen together. They found small stools for us. Some of us and all of them sat on the tiled floor.
We began by introducing ourselves to them and they to us. We spoke about our own experience of taking leadership roles through teaching, creating work with other people, and our thoughts about the importance of finding alternative ways to think about leadership. We asked them about their experiences which they shared enthusiastically.

Vanna Peou and some of the women
Vanna Peou and some of the women

Young women of Harpswell
Young women of Harpswell

Very soon it was obvious that the women’s definition of what leadership constitutes was much broader than the narrow way certainly I was thinking about it. To them leadership is synonymous to ‘taking responsibility’ in every aspect of your life. They spoke eloquently about the absolute importance of personal integrity when taking responsibility. They stunned us with the description of their way of life in the dormitory, and how they discuss world affairs and discussions on various topics, always from the perspective of leadership, or taking responsibility. They also spoke about the way they work together in all ways, helping and supporting each other in their learning and decision-making. They live happily together in an egalitarian fashion.
Young women’s attentive faces
Young women's attentive faces

We spoke a lot about the role of women in their society and in ours, and that despite the fact women have more opportunities in the west, the essential issues that are faced by women in Cambodia and the fight for their rights to be leaders and respected members of their communities, are the same issues being addressed by women all over the world.
Vanna is very clear that the situation for women and for a leadership that is radically different from what most of the world is currently experiencing, will come about through the education of women, because it is women who in turn bring up and educate children. So that it will be women who change society by changing themselves. She had been warned before she took the job at the dormitory that it would be impossible to bring about the kind of harmony and egalitarian living that she wanted to encourage within a group of young women. She was warned that there would be constant arguing and unhappiness. She has proved all these people to be wrong. The dormitory is one of the happiest places I have had the good fortune to visit. The women were remarkably curious and self possessed without a trace of arrogance. How they spoke about leadership was extraordinary, very human and passionate. They expressed a care for their country and the state of the world that was deeply moving and the way they were looking to the future was full of confidence and founded in goodness, respect and the desire to bring people together.
We felt inspired and thrilled to be with a large group of women in this way, in that little kitchen speaking together about leadership.
If any of you that are reading this blog ever visit Cambodia you MUST visit the dormitory.
I told Vanna that I thought she and the women should tour the US, UK and EU and speak to people about what they are discovering together and how they are addressing the issues of leadership. There is something truly remarkable happening in this place.
They are in the process of building a second dormitory so that more of Cambodia’s poor and bright young women can profit from this opportunity, and in the end Cambodia and the rest of the world will profit greatly from what they are discovering together through the great care and love of Vanna Peou. She is a remarkable woman with a true vision of what is possible and how the world can change.

After this couple of hours speaking together Renay, Laura, Mei and I did a short demonstration of our dancing for them. They seemed to love what we did and asked us very astute questions about the nature of our work. Throughout the day these women were not shy to ask questions and to offer their points of view.

Mei and Renay performing in the kitchen
Mei and Renay performing in the kitchen

We went downstairs onto the front patio and ate a delicious vegetarian lunch that the women had prepared together for us. They do all the cooking and cleaning in the dormitory. This was the first time they had prepared a vegetarian meal.
Delicious!
Delicious!

After scrumptious food we were ushered into one of the very nice rooms with 2 bunk beds. Laura and I were given a bed each and we were able to rest peacefully for a while. Dealing with the intense heat and humidity in Cambodia is exhausting!
After resting we showed them some DVDs of our work, sitting together in an atmosphere of tremendous intimacy in one of their small study rooms where they have a television. As more women had joined us in the afternoon Vanna asked us to do another demonstration of improvisation, which we did in the outdoor space downstairs. The women then did some demonstrations for us of their own traditional dancing. We learned some of their dancing and they learned some of ours. It was a happy time for us all, and I felt that the dancing justly celebrated all the things we had talked about together throughout the day.
By the time we left around 4.30pm we were all highly inspired and excited.

View from top floor of dormitory
View from the top floor of dormitory

Performance downstairs
Performance in the downstairs space
In the bushes
In the bushes
More plant dancing
More plant dancing
More plant dancing
More plant dancing

This is a day that has made our trip here memorable. I will not forget the young women and their leader Vanna. I know that I will be returning to visit them, and I am very interested in what they will all do in the future.

It is possible for women to spend two months in residence at the dormitory, helping the young Cambodian women with their English and other aspects of their education. This would be something I would highly recommend to anyone who is looking for something worthwhile to do and I am sure it would be a tremendous learning experience.

Shadow Puppets

Last night (saturday), Mei and I went to Savanah Phun, a small outdoor theater a few blocks away from our guest house, where every weekend they show different shadow puppet plays.
The atmosphere was wonderfully home grown, intimate and lively. The musicians sat at the side of the stage, and the piece began with the traditional offerings to the gods.
The two monkey characters, who stole the show, had been in the class we met that morning at Cambodian LIving Arts. We spoke to them after the show – full of life and laughter.
Here are some photos of our evening….

Savanah Phun Theater
Savanah Phoen

Shadow puppets
Shadow puppets

The main character
The main character

A young audience member
A young audience member

Young audience member
The young audience member

2 more young audience members
2 more young audience

Two monkey characters – students from Cambodian Living Arts
The monkey characters - students from CLA

The whole cast
The whole cast

Our visit to Cambodian Living Arts

Early morning 6am at the Boddhi Tree Umma guest house writing the blog. I love the early morning when everyone is still asleep in the guest house and the staff are preparing the place for the day. In the street outside Phnom Penh is waking up.
Early morning Boddhi Tree Umma

On saturday morning we went to visit Cambodian Living Arts in Phnom Penh. THis is the organization that Arn Chorn Pond founded for the preservation of Cambodian traditional music and arts.
We were met by V2, who was to help us with the translations.
We walked up tot he top floor of their building and into a room where there was a group of about eighteen students, and a group of musicians, with the dance Master and the assistant Master.
I found out through the translator that the students were aged about 14 or 15 and some of them had been taking the classes for 7 years. They do dance classes on saturday and sunday.
They did a warm up for us which consisted of various exercises to stretch their hands and legs. And a demonstration of all the fundamental movements from the Cambodian classical dance.
They then performed about 5 different dances for us, many of which were folk dances that had a lot more energy and celebratory tone than anything we have seen so far. There was one dance done with coconut shells, and also the monkey dances that were performed by four of the men. THe monkey dance was full of fast, staccato and scratching movements, with some acrobatic cartwheels and so on.
During the demonstration the young musicians accompanied the dances, and at some point another man came in who apparently was the music Master. These young people are from the slums of Phnom Penh, and Cambodian Living Arts is giving them an opportunity to rise out of poverty through learning music and dance. They have already traveled and performed at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland and recently in Japan.
After they had finished we did a demonstration of improvisation and tried to convey to them the premise of the work. It was difficult to get them to understand that there was no inherent meaning to any of the movements that we did, and that the viewers were free to interpret our dancing in their own way. At one point during the improvisation I did a cartwheel, and this impressed them because traditionally it is only the men that move on their hands. This led to a demonstration of hand stands, cartwheels and some lifting which they enjoyed.
This was another occasion where everyone seemed over joyed to share each others artistic expression. At the very end they sang a song for us to wish us good luck. We all joined together to sing and do a very simple Cambodian dance.We spoke about the fact that next time we visit we will do some classes together.

Cambodian Living Arts, with picture of one of the Masters who is considered to be the Ray Charles of Cambodia
Cambodian Living Arts, with picture of one of the Masters who is considered to be the Ray Charles of Cambodia

Warm up and demonstration of the traditional dance movements
Warm up and demonstration of the traditional dance movements

CLA students
CLA students

The coconut dance
The coconut dance

Coconut dance
Coconut dance

CLA students
CLA students

The Dance Master and the young musicians
The Dance Master and the young musicians

With V2 translating
With V2 translating

The music Master and the dance Master
The music Master and the dance Master

The beautiful young women students
The beautiful young women students

Photographing Cambodia

Phnom Penh Airport
Phnom Penh airport

Our faithful driver Mong, a very soft and beautiful man.
Our very faithful driver Mong. A soft and beautiful man.
Mong, Mei and RuHong
Mong, Mei and RuHong

Mong and Kirstie
Mong and Kirstie

Mong and another tuktuk driver outside the national museum
Mong and another tuktuk driver outside the national museum in center of Phnom Penh
Our haven, breakfast at Boddhi Tree Umma
Our haven - breakfast at the Boddhi Tree Umma

For anyone thinking of visiting Cambodia. We can highly recommend the Boddhi Tree Umma Guest House in Phnom Penh, and ask the lady who has the shop next door to call Mong to take you around the city.

http://www.boddhitree.com/boddhitree_umma.php