dance cambodia

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

Our visit with Sophiline Cheam Shapiro and other adventures

Fred has been enormously helpful to us with recommendations of places to visit and things that are happening in Phnom Penh.
He took us to an opening of an art exhibition of a young Cambodian artist who has been studying in Paris. He explained that his work is quite a radical departure from the traditional art work which is all Cambodians have known until very recently.

He also put us in touch with the only independent dance company in Cambodia run by Sophiline Cheam Shapiro and managed by her husband John Shapiro who is American.

Yesterday (Wednesday) faithful Mong drove us 1/2hr to the Khmer Arts Center.
We arrived in a compound with a beautiful small lake covered with water lilies, beautiful big trees and a large building from which we could hear the sound of live music.
I can’t begin to describe the beauty of the scene that met our eyes.
A huge outdoor studio area with a tier of 2 stages and a wondrous backdrop of monolithic faces. Words fail me! You have to look at the photos!
About 16 MOST beautiful young women were in the process of rehearsing a traditional Cambodian dance, which Sophiline Cheam Shapiro was videoing. There were perhaps 10 musicians seated at one end of the area playing different traditional instruments, and 4 women singers. Sophiline is restaging the dance, which means she is changing certain things in the dance. Once it is finished, she will show it to her Teacher who then either grants her permission to perform it with the changes, or not. It has been fascinating speaking to her about the relationship with the Teachers of dance, and the tradition of passing the dance on from one generation to another. It became clear to Sophiline at some point that it was her karma to pass on the dance to the next generation.
It is SO SO SO different to the west, where once again there is an (over – in my opinion) emphasis on the individual expression, career, work. The concept of dance as a sacred or spiritual form that has to be protected and passed on is very alien to us. I believe that if this was more prevalent in our culture then the emphasis on competing, winning, being the best and so on would not be as pervasive. Instead there would be greater respect, sharing and dialogue about dance as an art form of major importance for our cultures.
All VERY interesting and thought provoking!

We watched Sophiline conduct rehearsal and then they performed another traditional dance which we were allowed to film and photograph. Her husband John showed us around their compound that is big and impressive. We saw older photos of Cambodian dancers most of whom perished during the Khmer Rouge regime.
They told us a story of watching old footage of Cambodian dancing in the archives in NYC, and they had to turn it off because so many of the dancers were no longer alive.

Sophiline’s work is successful worldwide. They recently did a piece at the Guggenheim in NYC and in L.A. as well as touring throughout Asia and Europe.

We went across the road to their house where we ate lunch outside beside another lake full of fish and water lilies. We met their two sons who showed us gestures from the Monkey dances, which they are learning. It seems traditionally most parts are danced by women, with relatively few parts performed by men. We tickled their two dogs Cookie and Harry.
Sophiline spoke about her own story of surviving the Pol Pot regime and the villages they lived in during that time – the starvation and overcrowded conditions they survived, and her sadness now at the way the young people want to forget and move on, which is understandable, as is her response as a survivor. We also spoke about how history repeats itself unless we face and learn from what happens. We spoke about how in Europe there was nothing after the war, and then came the promise of ‘having everything’ which has continued to spiral out of control until the present situation, that hopefully might bring about a more moderate relationship to material things, and a learning that material belongings do not bring security or happiness. It’s ironic in a country that is as poor as Cambodia and which has undergone such unimaginable suffering, that people seem a great deal happier and are more willing to engage humanly than they do in the west, where there is so much mistrust and suspicion between us. The Cambodians have nothing to loose at this point. Once again this gives us much cause for reflection..

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