Saturday, May 23, 2009
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro has just been awarded a prestigious honour and a grant of $25,000 by the National Endowment for the Arts (in the US) for her contribution to folk and ethnic arts and as an acknowledgment of her outstanding work with classical Khmer dance. And in running Khmer Arts programs in both Long Beach, California and in Takhmau, just outside Phnom Penh, the money and the recognition will prove very useful. However, its one of numerous awards she has received for her determined efforts to keep alive classical ballet as well as adapt and enrich it with new influences and interpretations. She has choreographed many new works that have been seen on the international stage and these have introduced new audiences to Cambodian court dance around the world. At Takhmau, her Khmer Arts Ensemble has a permanent troupe of 19 dancers plus musicians, vocalists and teachers. Their pavilion-style theater is located on the grounds of her uncle's home, Chheng Phon, a visionary of Khmer artistic culture, who created the theatre celeste with a $300,000 grant from Japan, and who was Minister of Culture fron 1981-1989. Sophiline's troupe of female dancers, aged between 18 and 22, all graduates from the Royal University of Fine Arts, rehearse each day, morning and afternoon, from a program of rarely performed classical standards as well as new works designed by their master teacher. They also have classroom sessions where they study dance from other cultures and delve deeper into the relationship between dance and everyday life. The troupe is a professional touring company, having toured abroad extensively as well as performing regularly in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. They are taking classical dance to new levels, new locations and new audiences and deserve our unstinting support. My thanks to Toni Shapiro-Phim for giving me a guided tour of their Takhmau home and to Sophiline for allowing my intrusion into her rehearsals.