Monday, January 31, 2011
Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA), choreographic arts faculty, is quite some way from the city out past Tuol Kork and the apartment blocks of Camko City. Once you arrive you'll be greeted by a series of large dark red buildings in a substantial complex that houses the dance and music faculties. The tinkling of instruments gives the game away and the classical dancers, who I'd purposely come to see, were hard at work in the large open-sided practice pavilion on the left-hand side. Sam Savin, one of the teachers and a current member of the RUFA classical dance troupe, was waiting to greet us and act as our unofficial guide as we fired a series of questions at her, whilst the practice sessions continued without missing a beat. The girls, all dressed in their traditional style sampots, were split into age groupings with the youngest at eight years old, up to 19 years. As well as Savin, I also spotted two of the country's very best dancers, Sam Sathya and Chey Chankethya, busy passing on their extensive knowledge to their eager students. There were other teachers present, a few of them cracking their bamboo rods to ensure the dancers kept time and shape. The sessions last for three hours from 7.30am five days a week and then in the afternoons, the students go to their classroom for regular school studies. Savin told us that most of the young girls who complete the twelve years of study want to go onto be teachers and this was confirmed when we posed the same question to a small group of 8 to 11 year olds, who were taking a break. Over 300 students are enrolled in classical, folk and masked dance classes as well as theatre and circus arts. Some are boarders though most make the journey out to the campus every morning from their homes in the city, though the area is regularly under water in the rainy season. We concentrated on the classical dancers for the most part but I also popped my head into one of the boys sessions as they went through their monkey dance routines and a bassac group that were singing for all their worth. It's a fascinating complex, a veritable hive of activity though it's the classical dancers, with their perfect poise and incredible dedication to their art that are the key attraction in my view. Visitors are welcome though it's best to call ahead and book yourself in as it's a school and university campus afterall and they have security staff at the main gate. I loved it and I'll be back again, just to see if I can spot the next starlets of the country's leading classical dance school.