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Artists Prepare for Major Festival in New York

Cambodian Living Arts screen shot website
Cambodian Living Arts screen shot website

Four years in the making, the “Season of Cambodia” festival will include 125 artists and take place at some of the most prominent venues in the city of New York.

PHNOM PENH - Cambodian artists are preparing for a major festival to be held in the US in April and May.

Four years in the making, the “Season of Cambodia” festival will include 125 artists and take place at some of the most prominent venues in the city of New York.

“This is a moment that can make Cambodians proud of their culture,” said Sann Vanna, communications director for the festival. “And also to be inspiring to the next generation, who can look at this and say that this is what I want to have and be a part of in the future.”

In Phnom Penh recently, a group of young performers were rehearsing a monkey dance for a show at the prestigious Guggenheim Museum in April. The work, “Khmeropedies III: Sources/Primate” is a contemporary mix of Cambodian classical and modern dance.

“This is a proud time for Cambodians, that we have a work of art that studies monkeys and combines our classical dance and that we will showcase overseas,” said Nget Rady, lead dancer of the 7-person troupe.

Phuon Emmanuel, the choreographer, said the mix helped maintain “Khmer identity.”

“You go back to the roots of where your culture comes from and look at it with different eyes,” Phuon said.

The dancers will join many other artists during the two-month festival in New York.

“It is an opportunity for this younger generation of artists to present their new work,” said Kang Rithisal, the program director of Amrita Performing Arts, the Cambodian line producer for the festival. “They have creative ideas and want to try going beyond their traditional forms of art.”

More than 10 different art forms from Cambodia will be on display at the festival, from paintings and sculptures to performances and exhibitions.

The idea is to encourage even more Cambodian arts, said Phloeun Prim, director of Cambodian Living Arts, which initiated the festival.

“We want to make sure our artists have hope in the future, so that they will not think that as artists they cannot earn sufficient livings or that they can only perform on the streets,” he said.

For emerging filmmaker Neang Kavich, the festival is a chance to show his first feature, “Where I Go,” which explores that life and identity of a mixed race child of Cambodian and Cameroonian parents.

“It is an opportunity for us who produce pieces of art to show them to others too, not just keep them to ourselves,” he said. “So this is part of the encouragement for us to produce more new works.”

Also on display at the festival will be the rattan sculptures of Pich Sopheap, who is already earning international recognition. His works will be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“It is the first time for our artists to exhibit at one of the world's most famous museums,” he told VOA Khmer. “That is historic.”

And it’s not just for modern or contemporary art. The Royal Ballet of Cambodia will perform the full-length classic “The Legend of Apsara Mera,” choreographed by Princess Norodom Bopha Devi.

The festival officially opens at the Rubin Museum of Art on April 13.