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Young Performers Bring Up Cambodia’s Living Past


Before the show starts, the group of 19 young Cambodian circus performers prepared to platform at the International School of Phnom Penh. (Sayana Ser/VOA)

Before the show starts, the group of 19 young Cambodian circus performers prepared to platform at the International School of Phnom Penh. (Sayana Ser/VOA)

These young performers are the part of the second or third generation of Cambodians to be born since the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed in January 1979.

A new theater production is seeking to reconcile different generations of Cambodians with the country’s violent past by combining imaginative performance with documenting the memories of survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Entitled “See You Yesterday”—the former title was REBOUND—the show has been produced by Global Arts Corps in partnership with Phare Ponleu Selpak, the renowned performing arts nongovernmental organization. It opened with preview performances on March 11 and 12 at the International School of Phnom Penh.

Work on the production began in 2012 with teachers and directors from around the world working together with a group of 19 young Cambodian performers aged between 17 and 24. These youngsters are the part of the second or third generation of Cambodians to be born since the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed in January 1979.

Global Arts Corps artistic director Michael Lessac said the company of extraordinary young Cambodian circus performers had shown courage to become ensemble leaders. They used their creative skills to make sense of the silence handed down to them from the violent past of the forebears.

These circus performers became actors in the true sense of the word, creating a fusion of the two art forms, Lessac told VOA Khmer. “The play is a search for what it feels like to relive a past after growing up in the aftermath of violence. It opened up a dialogue between youth and their elders, and new stories found their way into the rehearsals,” he said. Lessac believes the show will serve as a mirror for youth, and for audiences everywhere, to explore their own identities.

Phat Sreyleak (Srey Peou), 17, one of the 19 circus performers in “See You Yesterday” at the International School of Phnom Penh. (Sayana Ser/VOA)

Phat Sreyleak (Srey Peou), 17, one of the 19 circus performers in “See You Yesterday” at the International School of Phnom Penh. (Sayana Ser/VOA)

William Faulkner’s line,“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” was brought to mind as the performers played out events from more than 35 years ago, as well as the confrontation with horror, which continues to the present day.

Phat Sreyleak, 17, acted as a pregnant woman who had to struggle to deliver her baby alone during work in a rice field. She went through labor without a midwife, medicine, or help, and then the baby was taken away from her.

When asked how she felt about the role, and if it was a challenge to perform the scene, Sreyleak said that through learning the steps, she could understand how people struggled during that time. Crying, she said it made her realize the pain her mother felt when she gave birth to her.

Youk Chhang, executive director of Documentation Center of Cambodia, praised the performance. For Chhang, “the Earth itself cried when Sreyleak portrayed the pain of women suffering under the Khmer Rouge.”

The show will also be brought to be performed in Rwanda and other countries affected by atrocities. Other audience members said they wanted the show to be toured around Cambodia for more people to see.

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