Saturday, April 25, 2009

Breathing new life into dance

Belle, with flowers, and Chankethya take the plaudits from the audience
Contemporary dance, so popular in the West but practically unheard of in Cambodia, is beginning to make its mark slowly but surely, through the energy and vision of dancers like Belle (Chumvan Sodhachivy) and Chey Chankethya, who brought their new style of dance to the stage tonight at the Chenla Theatre in a performance titled Dansez Roam! With both dancers schooled in classical Khmer dance, they included elements of what they know best but much of the performance would've been the first time many Cambodians in the packed auditorium had seen such freedom and unrestrained movement on a stage before. Chankethya began the evening seemingly locked within a mosquito net before bursting out to glide and skip her way around the stage with three fellow dancers. They were followed by Hang Borin who used a chair to center his dance movements, all the while accompanied by both classical style and loud, westernised music. After a short break, the extraordinary Belle, who is carrying the banner of the new contemporary style almost single-handedly if you believe the press, almost brought the audience to its feet with her opening segment, again producing an array of dazzling movements and ingenious variations of the accepted norm. Joined by a group of her peers, they told the story of her mother's life under the Khmer Rouge, combining expressive dance moves, music, singing and story-telling all rolled into one. All in all, a fantastically successful show, leaving the Khmer audience with plenty of food for thought about what they had just witnessed.
A segment from the opening part of Dansez Roam!
Belle opens her half of the show by putting on her dress
Belle uses classical postures in her dance
The cast of Dansez Roam! take their bows

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Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Belle of the CCF - written by Johan Smits for AsiaLife Magazine 04 April 2009

In January this year, the French Cultural Centre (CCF) contracted the Khmer classical and contemporary dancer Chumvan Sodhachivy (Belle) as an associated artist. Their cooperation will culminate in a contemporary dance show at the Chenla Theatre later this month. Johan Smits spoke to both the artist and the CCF’s director Alain Arnaudet and about their partnership, contemporary dance and their new forthcoming show.

“We all agree that she’s a fantastic dancer. People were amazed how Belle [Chumvan Sodhachivy] could do such a beautiful improvisation with Sclavis,” Alain says, referring to a show earlier this year where Belle’s sensitive dance movements blended flawlessly with the clarinet tunes of French jazz musician Louis Sclavis. The CCF has worked before with Belle, including during last year’s Lakhoan Festival and Les Nuits d’Angkor, but the six-month associated artist stipend marks the first time that the organisation has engaged in a partnership with a Khmer artist over such a long time-frame. “Six months is a good period because we really get to know each other,” Alain says. “Now it becomes increasingly interesting since we can discuss more in-depth about the things we do, have regular meetings, and speak very freely because we understand each other better.”

From Classical to Contemporary:
Phnom Penh-born Belle started dancing at the age of nine and has a background in Khmer classical dance. Trained at RUFA (Royal University of Fine Arts), she has danced with the Royal Ballet of Cambodia and has performed internationally in Asia, Europe, the U.S. and North Africa. “The first time I did a workshop on contemporary dance, I didn’t know what contemporary dance was,” Belle admits. “I just went and enjoyed it.” That was through an Indian contemporary dancer from New Delhi, who came to Cambodia to take part in a workshop with local artists. While learning Indian dance movements, Belle taught her instructor some Khmer classical dance in exchange. Then they mixed it together. During that exchange Belle also learnt what contemporary dance really meant.

“Before, when I was still young and studied at RUFA, I sometimes felt like I wanted to do something where I did not always have to follow my teacher, where I could express my own feelings,” she explains. To satisfy that urge, when Belle had free time, she started to explore dance in an extracurricular context and joined some exercise classes on pop music where she learnt about new kinds of different body movements. “My teacher there told me that I was learning fast and showed me how I could learn new movements on my own, develop my own skills,” she says.
Part 2 to follow.

June 18, 2009 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Part 2
Belle of the CCF - by Johan Smits

Her partnership with the CCF has already opened new doors to further explore the contemporary aspect of her personal dancing journey. Since their cooperation kicked off in January, Belle has been involved in various projects every month, mixing her choreography with music, video, plastic arts and even hip hop. “We decided to involve her in a special creation, mixing dance and video and then see what we’re going to do with it,” Alain says about one of these projects. The main creation in the works, however, is the show later this month at the Chenla Theatre, a partnership between CCF and Amrita Performing Arts, where she will have her own contemporary dance piece. Called ‘Hope There Will Be Tomorrow,’ it is loosely inspired by the life of her mother – the famous actress Nou Sondab.

Good Energy:
“They are still trying to find their own voice,” Alain says about contemporary dance in the Kingdom. “I know how difficult it is for classical dancers to find some kind of emancipation and break through that shell of conservatism.” But his eyes lit up when talking about how he sees contemporary dance evolve in Cambodia. “For me, we are at that point now where they are trying to find their personal path, and they do it quite well,” he says. Despite his optimism, Alain is realistic about what is lacking to help them develop their art. “There has to be more access to information, such as ‘What is contemporary dance today? Who are the main choreographers? What is the history of contemporary dance?’ and so on.” When Belle first performed a contemporary style of dancing, she found it hard. After performances she would hear the audience comment on the show, sometimes calling it ‘crazy’ or expressing incomprehension. But she also noticed how some of them were really excited to be seeing something new and different. “Classical Khmer dance is very slow and straight, whereas my dance is very open and playful,” Belle explains. “It comes more out of the heart.”

Alain thinks that contemporary art in general gives a snapshot of what is going on in Cambodian society as a whole. “This country has been moving a lot over the last few years,” he says. “Young people are much more involved in modernity – through fashion, through the arts… I encourage them. It’s such a good energy!”

June 18, 2009 at 4:11 PM  

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