Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Belle gets a lift

Belle in dance mode
The Phnom Penh Post produces a magazine for youth readers each Wednesday, it's called Lift. In today's edition it includes an article on Belle, Cambodia's best contemporary dancer, who is catching the plane to America as I type, on her way with three colleagues, to perform the Khmeropedies I and II dances in the States in New Haven and at the Baryshnikov Arts Centre in New York. The magazine article is aimed at youngsters who would consider a career in the arts. I've reproduced it below:

A Life in dance - by Dara Saoyuth and Vorn Makara

Chumvan Sodhachivy, more commonly know as Belle, is not only one of Cambodia's greatest cultural ambassadors for her dancing in performances around the world, she has also found a way to make a living through her passion for the arts. Between her travels to the US, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and France for cultural exchanges and dance workshops, she has established herself as a leader in the innovation of Cambodian contemporary dance, combining classical and modern styles to create a dance which expresses the globalization of the 25-year old's home country.
Creating a new style of dance in Cambodia, where older generations are hesitant to tamper with traditional culture, has not been easy. After her first performance in 2003, she received praise, criticism and confusion from her audience. "30 per cent of the audience really didn't like, the other 70 per cent said it was difficult to understand," she said. "People were saying to each other 'What are they doing? What kind of dance is she dancing? It's crazy!'"
Although the initial reaction to her and the other 4 women in her group was disheartening, Belle continued to pursue her passion for dance. "I promised to myself that I would continue dancing with the hope that someday my audience will love it and I will be a success," she said. A recent performance by Belle and her fellow dancers at Chenla Theatre on May 14, seven years after her first contemporary dance performance, shows that her resilience and hard work has indeed raised appreciation of contemporary dance in the Kingdom. The audience was an even mix of Cambodians and foreigners and Belle says that many of the Cambodians who used to complain about her modern adaptation of traditional dance have started to appreciate her vision and attend her performances.
Though many people may think that going to university to study dance will leave you with a degree and no job, Belle has shown that a passion for the arts can be profitable as well. Belle graduated from the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) in 2007 after 13 years of studying and has created various outlets for her talents. She organizes dance classes as well as private lessons to teach others to express themselves through dance and can also been seen on CTN and stages across the country performing her latest numbers. It has taken huge amounts of time and energy, but Belle is now one of the Kingdom's great examples of artists creating a new, and commercially viable, expression of the changes in Cambodian society.

I also saw this story on VOA Khmer by Nuch Sarita in Washington DC, USA.

In Khmeropedies, an exercise of Cambodian dance style

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 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.”

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