LOS ANGELES - There is an old story that describes the love between a princess of heaven and a peasant on Earth. It is an ancient story that teaches about love and the the things that can come between us. It appears in many Buddhist cultures.
Now, a Cambodian-American choreographer from Long Beach, California, is using the story to explore a more modern version of love and its power.
In his latest work, “Of Land and Sky,” Ok Prumsodun has taken elements of the classic Cambodian folktale Preah Sothun Neang Keo Manorea and used it to describe his own American life.
Ok Prumsodun, who is trained in Cambodian classical dance, says the love story is ancient, but it is relevant to modern life.
“‘Of Land and Sky’ retells this story and recasts it into the bodies of gay men to illustrate that the love experienced by two men or two women is just as real, is just as virtuous, as anyone else’s love,” he told VOA Khmer in a recent interview.
‘Of Land and Sky’ was this month featured in the New Original Works Festival at the REDCAT arts center in Los Angeles. The modern dance performance features Ok Prumsodun in the role of the princess, made up as he would for a feminine role in classic dance, in intimate scenes with another man, who plays the archetypal role of the peasant.
The festival features works that mix media and genres to form new ways of looking at the world. Ok Prumsodun’s work was chosen for its original approach to the subject of love, said George Lugg, associate director for REDCAT.
“I think Prum is a really interesting artist who is working from a tradition that he’s deeply trained in and deeply respectful of and is using it to tell stories that relate to him, personally, to his contemporary life experience, and bringing it into a contemporary context, while respecting the tradition and the training,” he said. “He is really working from the heart, exploring issues of love and his place in the world in a way that I think anyone can relate to.”
“Of Land and Sky” is not classical dance. It is a modern reconstruction of old story types, and it contains nudity and sexually explicit scenes and themes. Ok Prumsodun says this was done conscientiously and not to shock the audience.
“The things that I’m doing on the stage, just don’t happen on a Cambodian stage,” he said. “For example, the display of sex and sexuality is something that doesn’t happen in Cambodian culture, let alone in Cambodian media, but for me as a young gay man living in the States, in a society that can be violently oppressive sometimes, that display of sexuality is, one, a gesture of protest, and it’s also a gesture of celebration.”
Ok Prumsodun says he also chose to have his supporting dancers perform as they might have in the Angkorian period, topless. This too was an intentional, personal choice.
“These women are mothers, they are teachers, they are professors, they are educated, they are independent, they are beautiful, they are loving and they are fearless,” he said. “And that’s the type of woman that I want to see, and actually I want to elevate the role of the dancer in Cambodian arts and in all of the arts of the world to gain that high place and that high charge of semi-divine people who are acting as bridges between heaven and earth.”