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Director Sees Potential in Wide Range of Cambodian Art

Suon Bunrith, country director for Amrita Performing Arts, visits VOA Khmer. He is in his second year of a three-summer fellowship at the John F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts in Washington.

Suon Bunrith is the country director for Amrita Performing Arts and is now in his second year of a three-summer fellowship at the John F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts in Washington.

The program gives attendees from 24 countries skills that help them improve the development of the arts at home, he told “Hello VOA” recently.

Funded by major US donors and local businesses, Amrita was established in 2003 as an independent production company, which collaborates with the government and independent artists in the research and performance of traditional Cambodian performances.

It also encourages artists to explore contemporary theater, dance and music through workshops, regional exchange programs and international tours.

One of its latest initiatives is a traveling theater production called “Breaking the Silence,” which encourages victims and perpetrators of Khmer Rouge atrocities to speak out about their experiences as a move toward national reconciliation.

Suon Bunrith said the performance was a play about regaining hope and healing.

“We perform onstage to show the real stories of people who survived the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, a time when people were divided by ruined lives, betrayals, guilt, abuse, illness, grief or stress,” he said. “We do not want to see these stories continue to evolve today, and you are invited to imagine the future of the people in these stories.”

In November, the performance is expected to move to Rwanda, where an estimated 800,000 people were massacred in a 1994 genocide.

Cambodia has wide range of performance art, he said, which Amrita tries to perpetuate.

Shadow theater has seen a decline in popularity thanks to the advent of modern entertainment, he said.

“We want to bring shadow theater, or ‘nang sbek,’ to show abroad,” he said. “Nang sbek is an art that involves mime, song, music and having to dance, as well as narration to the accompaniment of the ‘pinpeat’ orchestra, and it is now a dying art form.”

Suon Bunrith graduated from the Royal University of Phnom Penh in 1995 and was a cultural specialist at Unesco. He has undertaken internships at New York’s Dance Theater Workshop, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Boston’s Leveraging Investments in Creativity.