The dancers behind two recent performances in Phnom Penh say they hope audiences can learn to appreciate a challenging new art form, contemporary dance.
‘Departure,’ choreographed by Chey Chankethay, the artistic director at the Amrita Performing Arts NGO, deals with issues of uncertainty and suffering through experiences of being a refugee, immigration and death.
‘Somewhere,’ by Chy Ratana, expresses the interactions between humans, and between humans and animals. It depicts the feeling of being inspired by a first encounter and the physical and emotional reaction one can have to a new environment.
The two creators spoke about their work during a discussion at the Java Arts cafe in Phnom Penh last week, giving an explanation of an art form unfamiliar to many in Cambodia.
“Contemporary dance is a new form of dance. It is a dance performance where you need to find your own way to create dancing style,” said Chy Lina, explaining that dance had allowed her to get to know herself, and express her own ideas.
The discussion followed performances of the two pieces at Department of Performing Arts. Both combine traditional Khmer movements with more unorthodox moves.
“Contemporary dance is different to traditional dance, but there are some similar points,” added Lina. “As when we perform contemporary dance, we need [to know] the basic and we have to know ourselves. It is the same with traditional dance that we need foundation.”
Chankethya, who graduated the Master of Fine Arts program in dance and choreography at the University of California, said people would benefit from seeing contemporary dance performed.
“The benefit is, I think, people could see something new. If human beings do not see anything new, they won’t develop,” she said, emphasizing the thought-provoking aspect of the art form.
“The audience will start questioning. I believe that a community, a society or a person cannot develop themselves, unless they question themselves, others and the environment.”
Contemporary performers in Cambodia often struggle for funding, rehearsal spaces and performance venues. But some help is at hand from the Trojan Women Project, an offshoot of the La MaMa theater in New York, which works with performing artists around the world.
Kim Ima, one of five Cambodian members of the Trojan Women Project, explained that the group had begun collaborating with Amrita Performing Arts toward a production of the ancient Greek tragedy about the aftermath of a conflict.
“It’s a piece of theater where people who dance, people who sing, people who make music, everyone learns together and we take the audiences with us physically and we tell the story of the Trojan Women,” Ima said, adding that the play would be performed in 2017.
Another challenge is getting Cambodians to appreciate challenging performances.
Many in the current generation of Phnom Penh residents were adverse to going out to see cultural events, Chankethya said, explaining that the organizers have made efforts to keep ticket prices low.
“In order the to break that barrier, they should get out,” she said. “In Phnom Penh, there are many things for them to see. There are museums, exhibitions and concert, not only places to eat.
“The other thing is that we are not used to the performance on a contemporary platform yet, so people are reluctant. As they think: ‘What is the point of seeing it since they do not understand.’”
However, the point was to inspire new thoughts among the audience, she said. “You go to see the performance, not to understand, but to ask yourself more questions,” said Chankethya.