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In ‘Khmeropedies,’ an Exercise of Cambodian Dance Style

Choreographer Emmanuelle Phuong, dancers Chey Cankethea and Phon Sopheap, at the rehearsals of Khmeropédies II.
Choreographer Emmanuelle Phuong, dancers Chey Cankethea and Phon Sopheap, at the rehearsals of Khmeropédies II.

Amrita Performing Arts is scheduled to perform at the Howard Gilman Performance Space Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City later this month, as it bring a new contemporary dance method to the US.

Amrita performers will first bring Khmeropedies One and Two to the Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven Connecticut from June 16 to June 19, followed by four performances at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York from June 24 to June 26.

The performers in Khmeropedies are trained in Khmer classical dance and represent the next generation of Cambodian creativity. Contemporary Khmer dance is a brand new discipline that had to look abroad for its initial performance. Khmeropedies I was performed in New York in April 2007 at the Baryshnikov Art Center.

Emmanuele Phuon, the main choreographer, is a French-Cambodian who lives in Brussels. She started training with the Royal Ballet of Cambodia at age 5. In 1975 she moved to Bangkok with her mother and then to Avignon, France. She studied and graduated from the Conservatoire National de Dance in 1986. In 1987, Phuon went to New York and has performed with the Elisa Monte Dance Company and the Baryshnikov White Oak Dance Project.

“The main purpose of Khmeropedies is to share my experience as a dancer in the West, a very different technique with Cambodian classical dancers, and see if they can live together,” she told VOA Khmer.

“Khmeropedies is a play between the words Khmer and Gymnopedies, a reference to Erik Satie, a French composer and pianist in 1887, and could mean an exercise in Khmer style,” she said.

Phuon said the basic idea for the work was to take Khmer classical dance and apply it in different ways and to different themes and to push it as far as possible from its original form while keeping it recognizable.

Chey Chankethya, one of Cambodia’s best classical dancers, said Cambodia artists need to take part in festivals and other environments to develop their art.

“To me the Khmeropedies, a contemporary piece of work, is not just only about showing movement or beauty of the dance, but it reveals a new Cambodian thought,” she said. “The dance piece is able to tell the audience exactly how the traditional Cambodian dance transforms over time and how one culture acts together with others.”

Part Two of Khmeropedies is about the dialogue between an older star dancer and teacher, Sam Sathya, who is rooted in traditions, and her three young students, who are curious and want to experiment with other techniques.

The four performers in Khmeropedies are Sam Sathya, Chumvan Sodhachivy, Chey Chankethya and Phon Sopheab.

Chumvan Sodhachivy, a solo star in Khmeropedies I, began training in Cambodian classical dance in 1994. She was trained specifically in Neay Rong, the male role, folk dance and Sbek Thom, large shadow puppetry. She participated in many dance festivals and has participated in numerous workshops with international artists from India, Indonesia, the US and the World Dance Alliance.

“I think it is a great opportunity to bring the new face of Cambodian dance to US audiences who mostly have only experienced Cambodian classical dance,” she said. “It is important to share with the rest of the world the cultural transformation taking place in Cambodia.”