LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA - This month the Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach, Calif., will celebrate its 10th anniversary.
The academy was begun by renowned choreographer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, who now lives in Cambodia. Shapiro returned to Long Beach this week to celebrate the studio’s anniversary, by coordinating some of Khmer classical dance’s oldest stories.
Performers at the Khmer Arts Academy on Tuesday began rehearsing the classic tale of Mony Mekhola, a goddess whose glass ball represents knowledge and conjures lightning, and Ream Eyso, a god whose axe brings thunder. By calling on them both, mortals are able to ask for rain.
The story is about renewal, rebirth and protection. That makes it a perfect performance to celebrate the health of the Khmer Arts Academy, which opened in Long Beach 10 years ago.
Shapiro brought with her a troupe of Cambodian dancers from her Khmer Arts Ensemble, who joined students at the academy for the performance of the ritual dances. These will be held at the Long Beach Museum of Art on Oct. 13.
The joint performance means that two sets of dancers have little time to learn to work together. Sot Sovanndy, 23, a member of the Cambodian ensemble, said it can be a challenge to adjust to two choreographers.
“And it’s about the time to perform so it’s hard to correct everything at this time,” she told VOA Khmer at a rehearsal on Tuesday at the Long Beach studio, as dancers began to play out the story and make adjustments.
Shapiro, who graduated from Royal University of Fine Arts before fleeing Cambodia, started the Long Beach academy a decade ago. She now lives in Cambodia, where she leads the Khmer Arts Ensemble in contemporary and classical dance.
She told VOA Khmer that while Cambodian dance has advanced in the past 10 years, it still requires ritual blessings, including from the ancient guardian Mony Ey Sey.
“We hope to be blessed by him and other masters,” she said, “and hope they will continue leading us over the next 10 years.”