Monday, March 30, 2009

Em Theay's sadness

With the legendary Em Theay (she's squeezing my hand behind my back) in March 2008
I've just heard some very sad news but I don't have all the details as yet. A house fire destroyed the possessions of one of Cambodia's true national icons, Em Theay, last week, leaving this lovely lady without any of her prized items including her books of priceless photographs which she proudly showed me when I spent some time with her in March last year. This lady lives for classical dance and her memories, which she loves to share with her students, family and friends. I can't begin to imagine how she feels after this tragic incident. There are moves afoot to get a benefit fundraiser sorted out to screen the film The Tenth Dancer by way of providing some monetary help to Em Theay, though nothing can replace the prized possessions she has lost. To remind you about Em Theay, here's one of my blog posts from September 2006:

After posting the Beyond the Killing Fields blog entry yesterday, I recalled that Em Theay was the main subject of a documentary I watched many years ago called The Tenth Dancer, which focused on the strength and resilience of the women of Cambodia in rebuilding their traditions from the fragments of a shattered society. The Khmer Rouge were responsible for the death or disappearance of over 90% of Cambodian artists, including most of the dancers of the Royal Ballet. Theay was one of the 10% to survive. The Tenth Dancer was made as long ago as 1993. Em Theay is still dancing and teaching today and performing abroad at the age of 75 years old - by anyone's reckoning that is a remarkable story.
Em Theay was chosen to dance at the age of seven by Queen Kossomak, for whom her parents worked as domestic servants. She grew up in the Royal Palace and was a dancer and singer in King Sihanouk's Royal Ballet until the Khmer Rouge took over her country. At that time she was forty-three and was sent to live in Battambang, where her talents didn't go unnoticed and her captors encouraged her to sing and dance as well as work in the fields. In 1975, twelve of her 18 children were alive. By the end of the KR period, seven had died and only five were left. Em Theay returned to Phnom Penh where her knowledge and skills of the traditional arts were put to use as a teacher at the National Dance Theatre and the Royal University of Fine Arts until quite recently. She is a vital link to Cambodia's past, quite literally a living national treasure and one that Cambodia should be tremendously proud of.



Blogger xVanna said...

Andy, please let me know how if I could make donation as a relief for her.
This is really sad news.

March 30, 2009 at 5:34 PM  
Anonymous Mike Krause said...

Same here Andy. Cambodian classical dance is one of my favorite aspects of the culture and why I regularly travel there. Let me know if there's any way to contribute from the states.

March 30, 2009 at 7:19 PM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Thanks Vanna and Mike. I'll let you know when I have more info about the tragic loss of Theay and her family. Rithy Panh the film director has offered the use of Bophana for a fundraising screening of Tenth Dancer, so hopefully this will come to fruition soon.

March 31, 2009 at 2:41 AM  
Anonymous Kent Davis said...

Andy, I'm shocked and saddened by this news. Theay has given so much joy and support to her audiences, her students and to Khmer culture that this event is just mind numbing.

I've watched The Tenth Dancer many times and it always moves me. Reading your article immediately made me think of how Theay risked her life throughout the Khmer Rouge era to hide her book of dance notes for the future.

True to her word, she taught again, starting with nothing. Now fate has brought her back to a similar beginning.

I see a determined woman in the photo with you. I know that Em Theay's passion for her art burns hotter than the fire that destroyed her home. Believe me, I know.

What a debt Cambodia owes to this woman. Cambodia's cultural leaders have a wonderful opportunity to do the right thing now, and to help this Khmer daughter who has given so much to her country.

By the way...where is the paid media? Google "em theay fire" and you are the _only_ person breaking her news to the world. That will change soon. My gratitude to you for your diligence.

March 31, 2009 at 3:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pls sign me in too. --- ANON-ENTITY

April 2, 2009 at 2:46 PM  

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