Sunday, December 7, 2008

Light on my feet

Sophiline Cheam Shapiro introduces Seasons of Migration at Bophana
My Saturday afternoon and evening was one of those times which I love, a packed schedule and so little time to do everything but simply enjoy the moment. Three events in quick succession kicked off with a 4pm screening of Seasons of Migration at the Bophana Center where I had a chance to sit down with Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, the artistic director responsible for the dance performance that was the focus of John Bishop's documentary, and talk at length about her vision of Cambodian classical dance today and in the future. It was a very enlightening conversation and it was so refreshing to hear Sophiline talk with so much passion of her determination to keep alive this vital cultural tradition as well as bringing it up to date with new and exciting adaptations. I hope I can accept her invitation to visit her Khmer Arts Ensemble company in Takhmau soon.
Guests at the book-signing: LtoR: General Dien Del, William Bagley (GM Monument Books), Prince Sisowath Sirirath, Martha Pattillo Siv, Roland Eng, Sichan Siv
Close friends from their days at the United Nations, Prince Sisowath Sirirath and Sichan Siv
Hard though it was, I broke away from the cultural feast that the documentary is to join the second book-signing of former Ambassador Sichan Siv's whistle-stop visit to Cambodia. Monument Books hosted the event and Sichan welcomed a glut of old friends and faces to the signing before he and his wife Martha were due to catch their much-delayed flight back to the United States. It gave me the opportunity to meet and talk to Prince Sisowath Sirirath, until recently the country's Minister of Defense and a former Cambodian Ambassador to the United Nations. He talked about his time spent living in England as a child as well as some amusing moments in a diplomatic and government career spanning more years than he cares to remember. Undoubtedly, with his various roles at the very heart of Cambodia's recent history, his memoir would be a very entertaining and revealing read. Also present at the event were Roland Eng, the former Minister of Tourism and Ambassador to both the United States and Thailand, and General Dien Del, a leader of the armed resistance forces of the KPNLF, which operated in the border areas in the 80s.
Meet & greet at Where Elephants Weep: LtoR: Author, Marc de la Cruz and Dang Kosal
Next on my schedule was a second visit to see the superb musical-opera Where Elephants Weep at the Chenla Theatre. I arrived just in time to take my seat before the performance began, in front of a sold-out auditorium. Such a high standard of performance professionalism combined with a musical score to delight the senses has been the hallmark of this production by John Burt and composer Him Sophy. The mix of Cambodian and American actors tell the story of a returnee who falls in love and the consequences of that love affair in song and pure theatre, not seen before in Phnom Penh. I stayed behind for a short time to chat to Dang Kosal, one of the three rapping bodyguards who inject lots of comedic dialogue into the story, and a friend who used to work at Meta House before landing the part in the opera. He performed his role with relish and is keeping his fingers crossed that the opera will get an extended tour lined up after tomorrow night's final performance. I also spoke to Vuth Chanmoly, one of the country's leading classical dancers who plays various roles in the work and to New York-based Marc de la Cruz, the actor responsible for the leading role of Dara, who was gushing in his praise for the chance to work in Cambodia and with his fellow cast members. Where Elephants Weep has been a great success story, long may it flourish and encourage other productions to follow in its wake.

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