Thursday, February 28, 2013


Really annoying regular-as-clockwork power cuts in my area of Phnom Penh over the past couple of weeks. Just after 6pm and often lasting until 8pm on the dot. Smells of a deliberate ploy by the electricity people to save/withhold power, but without informing the users. How would they feel if we all withheld paying our bills for a few months by way of tit-for-tat. And this is supposed to be the upper class/toffee-nosed area of the city, BKK1. Friends in less salubrious areas get to keep their power on, all day long. Jammy buggers. However, up in Siem Reap I hear its all gone tits-up on the power front. Apparently, the city has been plunged into darkness by a heavy truck demolishing a number of power pylons and the lights have gone out all over temple-town. And it may take a while to get it back to normal. Estimates of a week have been mentioned. Now that really is something to moan about.
I have to get up bright and early tomorrow with the wedding of my house-owners third daughter, Srey Nich. I'm on fruit-carrying duties, then off to work and will join the party tomorrow night. There's a very large tent blocking the whole street in front of my home right now and countless family members have arrived and are sleeping in every square inch they can find downstairs. Just another day in Phnom Penh.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tunnel rat

A dirty tunnel rat - click to enlarge
My first visit to Vietnam was in 1996. It was memorable for many reasons, but not for the constant rain that dogged our time in the north and that my camera's focus was buggered, though I didn't find that out until I got home. All my pictures were ruined. So I returned the following year, March 1997. These are just two pictures from that trip. Myself as a tunnel rat at the Cu Chi tunnels in Ben Duoc, where the group I was with went into the first set of tunnels, half went into the second level and just four of us went into the claustrophobic third level. I never want to experience that again, ever. The second picture is in Hanoi outside Ho's mausoleum, where a whole village lined up for my camera. They are bused in especially to queue for hours and then walk briefly past Ho's embalmed body. They didn't bat an eyelid when I asked for a picture.
A Vietnamese village delegation

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Back in the day - 1961

The Brouwers in 1961 - click to enlarge
The year is 1961 and perhaps the biggest newstory that year was the introduction of Ken, as the male companion to the doll known as Barbie. I kid you not. Oh, and Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. It was a quiet year for news. Instead, my family thought it was pertinent to have a group photograph outside our house at 16 Tennyson Road in Cheltenham. The little gingham-clad toddler, aged 2, sat on the stool with hair neatly parted with my mum's spittle, is me. The larger stick-boy next to me is my brother Paul. My mum looks like a schoolteacher but actually worked as a bus conductress, while my older sister is desperately trying to copy my mum. I remember that our next door neighbours had a large black dog which I used to cuddle up to and go to sleep. I also think we had a budgie. But time has erased any other memories.
Postscript: Some eagle-eyed observers may look at my gingham-style shirt and compare it to the one I'm wearing in the picture with Rumnea, in the story below. I refute any allegation that its in fact the same shirt. The one above had long sleeves!

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Radiant Rumnea

Radiant Rumnea and a n other - click to enlarge, courtesy of LebOOst
Billed as a guidebOOk, website and mobile app, LebOOst Cambodia is essentially a directory designed to introdOOce you to some of the hottest spots in Phnom Penh. Their words not mine. They were present at the Cambodian Space Project gig at the Village on Friday and snapped this picture of the radiant Rumnea and the less-than-dazzling me. Though I look the worse for wear, I promise I was drinking coca-cola.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

In public

There's a public showing of Khmeropedies III this Friday 1 March at 6.30pm at the Department of Performing Arts in Phnom Penh. Then the artists take their show to New York for the Season of Cambodia. Get along to watch on Friday, tickets are 2 bucks from Amrita. Be prepared for a lot of monkeying around.

Prumsodun Ok is an artist, teacher, curator, writer and workaholic who lives in Long Beach, California. He trained in Cambodian classical dance under the direction of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, the person responsible for the Khmer Arts Ensemble, who have their headquarters in Takhmao, just outside Phnom Penh. Prum is just about to publish a book he's written on one of the most sacred works of the Khmer classical dance canon, Ream Eyso & Moni Mekhala. Its a famous tale in which rival students of a powerful hermit bring life to lightning and thunder.  In Cambodia, it is performed in the elaborate buong suong ceremony to invoke the fall of rain, thereby seeking to ensure the fertility of the land and the prosperity of the people.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Wanting more

Cambodian Space Project - live at The Village
A double-header tonight with Krom at the Meta House exhibition opening of Chris Coles' paintings and then Cambodian Space Project at a new venue for me, and them, The Village on St 360. From the first number, part of the crowd were on their feet and bopping away to CSP, which always makes their life easier/more enjoyable. Top marks goes to Srey Thy's son who is a wizard on the dancefloor with a very personal style that he's developed on his own. He's 8 years old. There were at least two numbers I'd not heard before and though the venue's sound wasn't top drawer, it was good enough and if they clear a couple of tables away, The Village has a good sized stage and floor to pull in the punters. CSP are off to Oz so won't be around for a while. They left us wanting more. The same can be said for the Chamroeun sisters, Sophea and Sopheak, who vocally, front Krom. They have haunting voices that with the right songs/tunes will knock your socks off. They also look good enough to eat which helps no end. Give them room to really let rip with their voices and this band could take off, in a different direction. The saxophone from Jimmi Baeck was great too, more please. I know it might go against the grain for founder Chris Minko if they steer away from the dark and dingy, but these girls are ultra-talented, have grown up on stage with the Children of Bassac dance group and are naturals. There's a new album coming out soon from the band and I'm hoping for a few more up tempo numbers to steer the dynamic away from the noir-esque. We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, Chris Coles' paintings are expressionist in nature, gaudy and vivid in colour, definitely not my cup of tea, as they zoom in on the dark nightlife of Bangkok, with ladyboys and punters aplenty. The exhibition is at Meta House for the next few weeks.
An 8 year old taking the dancefloor by storm, with his mum on stage

Sopheak (left) and Sophea fronting Krom

The Krom band at Meta House tonight

A punter called Ron, painting by Chris Coles

Artist Chris Coles introduces Krom

Two friends in Bangkok's seedy nightlife

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Paint It Black

Steel Pulse, back in 1978, when I saw them live for the first time
The best reggae band on the planet, Steel Pulse, have released a new single. "Paint It Black is a song that is dedicated to the hundredth anniversary of Rosa Parks but also serves as a testimony of the African diaspora that have survived Western world society," said lead man David Hinds. I first saw Steel Pulse perform in 1978 and I'm still one of their biggest fans. A new album is scheduled for later this year, their first new studio release since 2004 which was African Holocaust, as is a documentary about their long career that;s also been in the works for a while now. Read more and listen to the song at


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Noir night

This coming Friday (22 Feb) will mark the opening night of a new exhibition at Meta House called Night Vision by Bangkok-based American artist Chris Coles. The exhibition will be opened at 6pm with a performance of the Phnom Penh-based music group Krom, featuring vocalists Sophea & Sopheak Chamroeun, accompanied by composer/musician, Christopher Minko. Two hours later, the artist will give a talk on German Expressionism and the Noir Vision in SEAsia, followed by a question and answer session. This comes hot on the heels of the launch of the book of short noir stories in Phnom Penh Noir, available at Monument Books and a darn good read. Krom will also perform at The Doors the following evening, Saturday.

Also on Friday evening, the Cambodian Space Project will be doing their thang at The Village restaurant bar on St 360 in BKK1 from 9.30pm onwards. Further afield, the CSP will be heading to Battambang on 2 March to present a double-bill with the modern circus performers from Phare Ponleu Selpak, under the Big Top, in Cambodia's second city. It's sure to be an exciting combination. Talking of the circus, the final Phnom Penh show will be this Saturday, 23 Feb from 6pm at the Beeline Arena - the show is called Metal Khmer. With the new Phare show each night in Siem Reap and their own shows in Battambang, resources may've been stretched a little but also Beeline is too big a venue for their more intimate shows.

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Empowering Asia

The PPCFC team with Prince Ali at this morning's press conference - click to enlarge
HRH Prince Ali during today's press conference
I MC'd the press conference for Prince Ali at Raffles Hotel Le Royal this morning. It was the last day of the Prince's three-day visit to Cambodia. As Vice President of FIFA responsible for Asia, but moreso, in his role as Chairman of the Asian Football Development project, an initiative he started himself, the Prince was here to promote and support the fabulous work being done by the Salt Academy and the Mighty Girls programs in Battambang. The AFDP provides sponsorship to the Mighty Girls, who effectively form the Cambodian women's national team. And he was glowing in his comments during his speech at the press conference about the potential he saw in Battambang on Monday, as an example of the empowerment of women through football that he advocates so strongly. He also expressed his admiration for the work Rithy Samnang is doing with grassroots football at Phnom Penh Crown. The common thread is of course Sam Schweingruber who began the Salt Academy and Mighty Girls programs in northwest Cambodia and has now brought that grassroots thrust with him since he joined PPCFC as head coach a few months ago. The Prince remarked that both Samnang and he were of similar ages, with similar dreams and aspirations for the betterment of football, whilst Samnang felt the presence of the Prince at the opening of the new youth league on Sunday morning was a big encouragement for the youngsters to see someone of his world stature at their new competition. Prince Ali also commended the Football Federation of Cambodia, whom he will give 500 footballs to for their grassroots endeavours, with vice president Khiev Sameth confirming that the FFC will begin its own youth academy at the end of this year. Commenting on the problems that FIFA have been experiencing in some quarters, the Prince felt it was healthy that problems are aired and dealt with in a transparent way and that a world body should have no secrets. He spoke positively and passionately about Asian football, emphasizing the importance of focusing on grassroots, infrastructure and developing coaches to uncover the massive potential that exists within the continent. The Prince was seen off at the airport by a contingent of PPCFC staff and players as he headed for his next destination, a grassroots tournament in Bhutan. His time here was brief but memorable for the impact on so many, helping to put Cambodia on the football map on the international stage.
HRH Prince Ali is flanked by Khiev Sameth of the FFC and Rithy Samnang, President of PPCFC (right)

The PPCFC contingent saying goodbye to Prince Ali and his team at the airport

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Golden-age revival

Today's Phnom Penh Post edition has picked up on The Last Reel, Kulikar Sotho's directorial debut. They are currently filming scenes in Siem Reap for the video trailer.

Golden-age actress gets ready for a Reel life role - by Rosa Ellen (Phnom Penh Post).

In the [film] you’re a bit sad – and this is a sad colour,” film stylist and set designer Silvia De Britto says to actress Dy Saveth, as she picks out a teal shirt from Saveth’s real-life shirt collection. De Britto is choosing clothes from Saveth’s Phnom Penh apartment during pre-production for The Last Reel – a new film to begin shooting this week in Battambang, by first-time director Kulikar Sotho. A modern intergenerational drama, the film mines the legacy of the “Golden Age of Cinema” – the period of the 1960s and early ’70s when Cambodian cinema enjoyed immense popular and creative success across Southeast Asia – and stars 69-year-old Saveth, one of the few artists of the period still alive. “She’s probably the most prominent person associated with that time,” the film’s producer, Nick Ray, says. “The fact she was the right age and is a good actor is kind of perfect. The part was almost made for her.”

Other actors, including the role of Saveth’s onscreen daughter, who discovers her mother was a famous actress in the ’60s, and characters in the film’s fictional Golden-Era film-within-the-film, were found by local audition agents, whose brief was “to find the undiscovered gems.” Written by British writer Ian Masters, formerly a scriptwriter at Cambodia’s BBC Media Action, The Last Reel was initially to be made as a flagship launch for a new film and media school in Siem Reap, says Ray. When the school didn’t get off the ground, Kulikar and Ray’s production company, Hanuman Films, took over the project. “It’s not going to glorify the Golden Era; the backdrop is a lot of family conflict. It’s really nice to tell the story of three eras: the 1960s Sihanouk era, the Khmer Rouge and contemporary [times],” Ray says. Tapping into the resurgence of interest in ’60s and ’70s cinema and music, The Last Reel comes on the coattails of documentaries Golden Slumbers, French-Cambodian director Davy Chou’s yearning investigation into the era’s surviving performers, and the long-awaited upcoming rock ‘n’ roll documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, by John Pirozzi. In addition, the film will be scored by Dengue Fever members Paul Smith and Chhom Nimol, whose ’60s-inspired psychedelic pop has won Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea a new cross-border legion of fans.

With nine Cambodia-related film credits to their production company, Kulikar and Ray are collaborating with a number of former film colleagues, including Australian line producer Michael Cody, with whom they worked on the critically acclaimed Wish You Were Here. Australian and German colleagues will apply to their respective film bodies for funding, Ray says. “Kulikar and I are interested in having a Cambodian identity” for the film, he says, which has roughly been budgeted at $350,000 and is expected to finish filming in April or May, with a tentative completion date set for July. Filming for the trailer is being held in Siem Reap. For Saveth, the film comes as a welcome change from recent roles – The Last Reel role is the closest she’s played to her real life, she says. “[Kulikar] thought of me because the story was about an actor and the cinema before the war... Since 1993, when I came back to my country [after fleeing to France], this is the first time the story is different.”

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Super Fan Day

Its all hands to the pumps ahead of Open Day, with Rumnea in charge of Fan Club membership
The second instalment of our own Super Sunday took place at Phnom Penh Crown's RSN Stadium in Tuol Kork. For a long while now, the club have been planning on starting its own official Fan Club. Something where Crown fans can feel they belong and start to generate the kind of support that football clubs around the globe take for granted. There is no history of supporting football clubs in Cambodia. A lack of regional-based teams doesn't help and with all the matches played at the Olympic Stadium, there has been little reason for fans to declare their undying allegiance to one club or another. PPCFC want to change that thinking. Hence the formation of the PPCFC Fan Club. Based on a tried and tested formula adopted elsewhere, the fans pay a membership fee ($15 for full and $5 for junior) and in return they get benefits for supporting their beloved club. That includes a team jersey, cap, posters, free telephone sim card and message alerts from co-sponsors Smart Mobile as well as other goodies and online involvement in the future. To help start it all off, Crown held a Fan Open Day on Sunday afternoon, where all fans, not just fan club members, were invited to come and join in the fun, meet the senior players and Academy youngsters, join in with some 7-a-side matches and generally have a good time. It worked a treat. Approaching 200 youngsters and fans joined in, despite the scorching hot sun overhead and the final of the friendly competition went down to the wire, with Ouk Sothy's team winning on penalty kick's against Hong Pheng's side. The Fan Club welcomed its first members with pride of place as the No. 1 member going to ace fan Yin Marady. Now the aim will be to increase the membership and give the fans a voice at all PPCFC matches, where the fan club can be integral in building on the current buzz surrounding the club. Third place in the Hun Sen Cup and a bunch of interesting signings has triggered a lot of interest and we need to continue that momentum into the league season which restarts next weekend.
PPCFC President Rithy Samnang addresses the big crowd at the Open Day

The PPCFC senior players are preparing to captain their respective 7-a-side teams

Ouk Sothy's winning 7-a-side team with their rewards


Big day in the sun

Keeping an eye on the press at the official opening of the CFDL. Pic courtesy of Ken Gadaffi.
Prince Ali meets one of the PPCFC teams and presents them with a football

Everyone cheers the start of the CFDL at Olympic Stadium
Long day in the sun. Bright red face. Exhausted but happy as larry, as everything went so smoothly. The morning's youth league opening at the Olympic Stadium went like clockwork considering we had one of world football's top power-brokers on hand to give us his seal of approval. After a quick burger (and indigestion) for lunch it was off to the RSN Stadium to launch the Phnom Penh Crown fan club and hold our first ever open day. Another roaring success in anyone's book. More later when I've had a few moments in a darkened room and applied some after-sun lotion.

Okay I've had said lie-down and am now refreshed. Young footballers from 10-16 are simply not catered for sufficiently in Cambodian football. They get few opportunities for regular sport, let alone well-organised team sports, especially football. The schools rarely cater for it and aside from a handful of clubs, it's all pretty hit and miss. Hence why Phnom Penh Crown have got their heads together with another half a dozen teams to form the new Cambodia Football Development League with age groups set at U-12, U-14 and U-16. It all kicked-off on Sunday morning with a series of friendly showpiece matches, some 300 boys and 1 girl playing across 22 teams, at the Olympic Stadium, on three pitches and a noise level only surpassed by a Justin Bieber concert. The league format competition, which will take place most weekends by the mainly Phnom Penh-based teams, though Kompong Chhnang and Prek Kdam are represented, was timed perfectly to coincide with the visit of Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, one the FIFA's Vice President's no less, who graciously agreed to officially open the league. As soon as he arrived in the country he was whisked off to the stadium, where he was given a rapturous welcome by the youngsters, offered up a speech and then met each team before heading to his hotel. It was a great start for the fledgling competition. The action continued after his departure and all-in-all, an excellently stage-managed event went like clockwork. Hats off to the organisers, oh, that was Phnom Penh Crown then. Now we're off to Tuol Kork.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

In the groove

Naga's Hans (blue/purple) and a deranged looking me, courtesy of Bunsak But
Hectic doesn't quite deliver the last few days I've had. If I'm not working, then I'm in meetings or I'm sleeping, apart from today when I spent the morning watching Phnom Penh Crown play a practice match against AEU, which we lost - I hate to lose anything, including kickabouts - and then this afternoon I put myself through torture, watching perhaps the direst cup final in living memory as Naga finally beat the Army on penalties. Both semi-finals and now the final were decided by spot-kicks. What does that say about the goalscoring prowess, or lack of, amongst the final four teams. At least PPC managed to put three past Kirivong to claim third place after losing to the Army on penalties a few days ago. The picture above was snapped tonight by Bunsak, who is/was a PPC fan and helped design our website but has now gone over to the dark-side, working as a photographer for NagaWorld, hence why he was snapping merrily away as Naga collected the cup for the first time. I'm shaking the hand of Hans, the Naga marketing guy, through gritted teeth of course. PPC were undoubtedly the team of the tournament but we didn't score when it mattered and that's a harsh lesson we had to learn. Earlier today, PPC set some sort of record when one of our Academy youngsters took to the field in a senior team friendly for the last 15 minutes of the game. Seut Baraing is just 13 years and 5 months old. Now that is one helluva record. He didn't look out of place at all. Tomorrow morning Baraing will be back playing for the Crown U-14 team in the brand new youth development league the club are starting, which we hope will get the seal of approval from Prince Ali of Jordan, the FIFA Vice President no less, when he touches down in Phnom Penh first thing. And then tomorrow afternoon is the first PPC Open Day at our training ground in Tuol Kork. We have no idea how many people will turn up but they will all get a chance to play with the senior team and the Academy boys and we'll make the session as enjoyable as we possibly can.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Red hot football news

FIFA Vice President, HRH Prince Ali of Jordan
Spent an hour at Raffles Le Royal Hotel earlier today to finalise the details of a rare visit to Cambodia by one of world football's high-profile administrators. There are few of football's powerbrokers who make the news but HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan is one of them. Most recently he fought for the rights of Muslim female footballers to wear the head veil, or hijab, and won. That was no easy task for the youngest member of FIFA's senior hierarchy, he's still in his mid-30s. As one of eight Vice Presidents of FIFA, the world governing body of the game, and the main man as far as Asia is concerned on the executive committee, he's also charged with championing fair play and social responsibility, making him one of the new breed amongst the game's leading figures. His three day visit to Cambodia beginning on Sunday is to recognise and reward the efforts of the SALT Academy and the Mighty Girls program in Battambang, under the auspices of his own Asian Football Development Project which focuses on grassroots and women's rights. As soon as he touches down in Phnom Penh, he'll be whisked off to the Olympic Stadium to oversee the opening of a new youth football league and he might even squeeze in a visit to Phnom Penh Crown's open day in the afternoon. Next morning it's a trip by helicopter to Battambang, where the Crown head coach Sam Schweingruber will head the SALT Academy delegation, a program he started more than six years ago. Next morning, Tuesday, I'll be the MC at a press conference by the Prince at the Elephant Bar at Raffles to explain his role in aiding Asian countries with their development, before he heads off to Bhutan, on the next leg of his trip. People of his stature rarely come to Cambodia with football as their focus and his interest, influence and involvement cannot be understated. This is red hot news.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Focus on Belle

Belle in Jamaica
My blog has been a mite quiet on the Belle front recently. Some may even be unaware of who Belle is. So a timely interview with the lady herself on the Cambodian Living Arts website will bring you all up to speed, before Belle travels halfway around the world to perform in New York in April for the Season of Cambodia program that will be bringing Cambodian artists to the attention of the American public.

Chumvan Sodhachivy, known as Belle, is a Cambodian contemporary dancer, choreographer, and dance teacher. As a student, Belle spent 9 years training in Cambodian classical dance at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh and is now a member of the Amrita Performing Arts troupe, performing regularly in Cambodia and abroad. She will be appearing in Olden New Golden Blue on April 18-19, 2013, at the Abrons Art Center in NYC as part of the Season of Cambodia festival.  
How did you become a recognized dancer and choreographer?
When I was young, my mom was working at the Department of Performing Arts, both as staff and as a dancer, She pushed me to become a dancer too, even though at that time I did not particularly like dancing, I was just following my mom’s will until I was 12 and my teacher selected me to perform in a public exhibition. When I finished my dance, the audience began to applaud and I felt so proud of being able to do something that touched people.  I felt so different. I realized that dance could be a force for change. Dance can make people feel empowered. This is particularly meaningful to women in Cambodia, as in this country’s traditions, a woman can’t do what she wants. She has to stay home and take care of her household. But I believe in stepping beyond tradition and love dancing and exploring choreography. I am a free woman and I am happy to show that women can perform and be creative!
In 2003, I discovered Amrita Performing Arts and I started participating in their workshops on contemporary dance. I felt so inspired! I learned to explore and create, to be free! Since then I have devoted myself to dancing and choreography. Dance is my soul, and I want to keep on improving myself until I am able to give the best that I can give! And I have to say I am quite thankful to my mother for supporting me. She’s an old woman now, but she remains open-minded. She always says to me: “if you think your dream is what’s best for you, then just go ahead and do it”.
How are you experiencing choreographing and teaching?
A choreographer has to think one step ahead of the dancer. He has to envision the whole piece and to express to others, the feelings he has inside himself. This is a difficult step for many dancers as they are used to expressing their emotions through movement, not through words. Learning to create choreography required a lot of effort, and I am still learning new ways to express my feelings through gestures.
Teaching has been a rich experience for me as well. As a teacher you need to have an expert understanding of movement. Also, all students are different. Some are gifted, some may need more time, some are creative, some just follow. Teachers need to adapt to their students, and help them to feel and understand each movement. If they put too much pressure on their students, they won’t be successful in transmitting their knowledge. So teaching is about finding the right balance and the right way to explain ideas. This is definitely inspiring me in my work!
Are you trying to deliver a message to your audience through your creations?
I try to show our culture and our society through dance. I want to express real life on stage. In every creation, I try hard to interpret the feelings that people have and put them on stage. When I say people, I am talking about Cambodian people. Dance isn’t only about beautiful movements and I have never tried to copy contemporary Western dance. When I express the emotions of the audience from the stage, I am not offering solutions. I am just hoping to make them think and then take their thoughts home with them and find the solutions themselves.
For me, dance is about real life and the belief that dance can bring healing and peace.
This is true for the children of poverty, too. When they learn to dance, their lives are suddenly changed. Dance brings them peace, and a direction in life. When they get on a stage, they express the best of themselves.
It makes me feel so happy when girls come to see me at the end of a show, although not because of their admiration. When they say “I want to be like you” and I ask: “Do you want to be a dancer?”,
their answer is, “No, I want to be free”.
What is it like to be an artist in Cambodia?
It is at the same time easy and hard! Easy because I am passionate, dance is the only thing I want to do. But hard also because it is quite difficult to find performance opportunities and artists still get paid very poorly. We artists love what we are doing so we don’t look for other options, though. We have to always move forward. If one finds themselves in a bad situation, you have to just keep moving and try to learn from the tough lessons, so that you can create a better future.
I have travelled abroad and I can see that the situation for artists is the same in other countries, including the Western ones. Although Europe and the US are wealthy societies, I have seen that it is very difficult for dancers to find opportunities and get a decent living there also. The same is true in other Asian countries, but I believe that things are improving in Cambodian arts sector. So my hope is that the situation will get better with time.
Being a contemporary female dancer in Cambodia is sometimes quite challenging! A lot of Cambodians don’t value women and don’t believe that women have anything to contribute to culture and the arts. I want to show them that they are wrong! As for contemporary dance, it is still something that most people do not understand. But thanks to Amrita Performing Arts’ efforts for the past 10 years, the situation is much better now. I would say that one third of the audience still thinks our performances are just crazy and don’t understand them, but the rest enjoys our performances even if they don’t always understand their meaning. This is normal. Sometimes an audience just needs time to reflect on what they have seen.
Some people still think that by creating new forms of dance, we are destroying traditional Cambodian culture. Sadly, I’ve heard this from some of our most respected, elderly, Master Artists. I keep trying to explaining that we are not destroying culture but rather are building on the past and developing the existing art forms in new ways. We, young artists are trying to find pathways along which our arts can evolve. We’re not killing the arts, we are making them come alive in today’s world. I always invite my first Master – the one who taught me classical dance – to my performances. I try to open the discussion with her, and I also like to receive her comments and suggestions for improvements. As I am always trying to keep learning and trying to improve myself, any comment is always welcome.
A lot of criticism of contemporary dance comes from younger people who don’t know classical dance. So how can they claim that we are destroying something that they don’t really understand? Many young Cambodians call any classical dance style “Apsara”, but Apsara is only one style of classical dance. My answer to them is that all dancers in our troupe are Cambodian. We all speak Khmer, and we work very hard to include gestures and elements from Cambodian classical dance. We respect and make use our traditional background in every performance.
Can you tell us more about Season of Cambodia?
I will be performing Olden New Golden Blue with the Amrita Performing Arts troupe, a piece that was created in collaboration with Toronto-based choreographer Peter Chin. Peter used to live in Cambodia, so he understands Cambodian culture. In this piece we show how the old can become new, in dance as well as in other things. For example we include movements from the Cambodian monkey dance to show that we never forget our history. “Golden blue” refers to the golden age of Angkorian times, when Cambodia was the most powerful country in this part of the world. We also show that Cambodia is coming alive again after the blue, sad times of our more recent past. One always has golden and blue periods in life. 
I am so excited to be part of this festival! This won’t be the first time for me to go to New York but it will be the first time that I’ll go as part of a huge Cambodian arts festival that will present all of the art forms of Cambodia. I am sure Season of Cambodia will raise awareness about Cambodian culture and will show the world that Cambodia has changed, that it is no longer a country at war, but rather a country at peace, where the arts are thriving! It is my hope that in the future, the world will think of the richness of Cambodian culture rather than its economic troubles. I think the Season of Cambodia festival will be a great help to Cambodia as a whole.
Are you working on other projects?
Yes! I choreographed and presented Bach Cello Suites at the Our Roots Right Now festival in Bangkok last week, and the audience loved it! They told me they realized that Cambodia was truly developing.
I am also working on a choreography collaboration with Japanese and Indonesian dancers. And I have recently been touring in Europe with Crack and other pieces.
How are you envisioning arts in Cambodia in the future?
Well, I am just a dancer, I don’t know much about society... But the arts are definitely connected to the society and the economic situation of a country, and in my opinion, Cambodia is improving a lot. I believe that we now have engaged people who are motivated to make this progress happen. This is not only true for dance, but also for the visual arts, photography and other performing arts!
A word for your readers everywhere in the world?
You don’t have to understand it immediately, but stay curious and let artists present you with their creative efforts. Creating is our way to preserve culture, to make it alive and to share it to the world.
The interview with Belle was conducted by Marion Gommard in January 2013.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Shors delivers Angkor

John Shors latest novel, Temple of a Thousand Faces
I was fumbling around with my own review of John Shors latest novel, Temple of a Thousand Faces, set in the time of Jayavarman 7th's Angkor in the 12th century, when the Denver Post went and beat me to it this weekend. Their review pretty much encompasses the story and I have to agree with them. It's a rattling good read, bringing to life the story of the prince, as he was then, just after his kingdom was overrun by the marauding Chams. We get to peer into the everyday life of fisherfolk on the Tonle Sap Lake as well as inside the palaces of the high and mighty, with at least three love stories weaving through the book's 500-pages. Hot on the tail of John Burgess' A Woman of Angkor, these two novels do a fantastic job of putting some meat on the historical bones of the amazing Angkor Empire, and I thoroughly recommend both of them.

A lush novel of revenge - by Sandra Dallas (The Denver Post).

John Shors lives in Lafayette, but the Colorado author's books encompass the world. His best-selling Beneath a Marble Sky takes place in India and is a love story about the building of the Taj Mahal, while his other books are set against the backdrop of the South Pacific, Thailand or Vietnam. In Temple of a Thousand Faces, Shors turns to the dazzling empire of 12th-century Cambodia to produce a novel as lush and exotic as Angkor Wat itself. Based on the tale of a war a thousand years ago, this story of an epic struggle between Khmers and Chams (Vietnamese) is filled with romance, intrigue, betrayal and battle - in short, everything you could ever want in a novel. Khmer King Jayavar, a benevolent ruler, is forced to flee when his kingdom is attacked by the Chams, whose quaint lotus-flower hats and quilted armor fail to disguise their viciousness in battle. They are led by King Indravarman, as evil a man as ever lived in the pages of literature. Deposed but not destroyed, Jayavar and his wife, Ajadevi, seek refuge in the jungle where they assemble a force of Khmer warriors and Siamese mercenaries intent on retaking the country. Since all of Jayavar's children have been killed by the Chams and she is infertile, Ajadevi insists Jayavar take a second wife so that his bloodline will survive, which is sort of unbelievable in today's world but apparently made perfect sense in 1177.

As Jayavar gathers his forces (and pursues his wife's suggestion of establishing a dynasty,) he is joined by a fisherman, his wife and two sons. One has been humiliated and nearly killed by the Chams and is eager for revenge, while his nearly blind brother has devised a plan to defeat the enemy. He confides it to Jayavar. Meanwhile, in occupied Angkor Wat, Indravarman readies for the final battle with the Khmers. A brutal man, he is ruthless not only with the captured Khmers but also with his own men, personally devising ways to torture and kill. Think tying a Cham warrior's legs to two elephants or skinning him alive. Little wonder that even his most loyal underlings are a bit nervous. One of them is Asal, Indravarman's brilliant strategist and soldier. Although he fears Indravarman will kill him when he is no longer useful, Asal is loyal. That is until the Cham king gives him the beautiful Khmer woman Voisanne. Indravarman expects such captured women to be beaten and raped, but Asal is too honorable to treat a woman this way. He falls in love with Voisanne, of course, and begins to question his king's brutality.

As if an evil king and employer isn't enough, Asal also must contend with Po Rame, Indravarman's assassin, who loves nothing more than killing and stealing the souls of those he murders. If possible, Po Rame is even more villainous than his king which tells you what a rough go of it Asal has. All this adds up to a wonderfully complex epic novel of love and lust, mystery and epic war. It's all played out against the kind of exotic background that makes Shors' grand books best sellers. Temple of a Thousand Faces, with its lush sun-lit hillsides filled with blue butterflies and exotic ruins, is just right for a cold winter's read.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

The buzz begins

Actress Dy Saveth will appear in The Last Reel
The buzz has begun. The following article appeared in today's on-line FBA website. Keep your eyes firmly peeled for this.

Cambodia's Last Reel set to unspool - by Patrick Frater (Film Business Asia)
Production is set to start on The Last Reel, one of the most ambitious Cambodian films made in recent years – and one which recalls the "Golden Age" of Khmer cinema. Pre-production has now begun on the drama about a woman struggling to find the missing finale of a 1974 hit melodrama and show it to her dying mother. Director Kulikar Sotho will shoot a teaser trailer and promotional materials this month ahead of principal photography in April. Sotho's Hanuman Productions, the largest locations services company in the Cambodian film industry (Tomb Raider), will produce on a budget of $400,000. The screenplay is by Ian Masters, who is also set as co-producer.

Funding is expected to come from local private equity sources. Producers are also able to count on distribution by local firms Sabay and Westec, the property giant that is the leading cinema operator and distributor in Cambodia. Sabay and its partner Raam Punjabi's Multivision Plus have a first look option to handle the release in seven South East Asian territories. The Last Reel will feature Dy Saveth (pictured above), a former beauty queen and one of the biggest stars of the pre-Khmer Rouge film industry in Cambodia, in the role of the mother. The producers are in advanced talks to sign experienced international crew to the picture. These include production designer Andrew Sanders (Lee Ang's Sense and Sensibility) and Duncan Telford as DoP and Paul Smith (Dengue Fever) as the composer.

Between 1965 and 1975 Cambodia produced over 300 feature films were produced in Cambodia. It was the golden age of Khmer cinema. But only around 30 of those films survive. Some were highlighted in Golden Slumbers, Davy Chou's pioneering documentary which played in Busan in 2011 and in Berlin last year. "The Last Reel recalls a past that Cambodians can be proud of and inspired by, whilst at the same time, looking to the future for a revival of Cambodian cinema," said Masters. "It places contemporary problems in Cambodia against nostalgic recollections of the golden age and finds a way for both of them to co-exist. It's a rallying call not to sever the past, bulldoze the old, but revalue them for today's commercial world."

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Last One

The front cover of The Last One by Marin Yann
A survivor story by Marin Yann begins when he's five years old and the Khmer Rouge take control of Cambodia. He loses his immediate family but survives before making his way to the USA. Today he works as an advocate for Cambodian-American communities and lives in Long Beach. His book will be out in April and is called The Last One: An Orphaned Child Fights to Survive the Killing Fields of Cambodia. The tale is published by Outskirts Press.

The Cambodian Space Project gig ended in darkness tonight at Equinox as successive power-cuts brought the performance to a premature end. Playing their second gig in as many nights, it all began swimmingly well, albeit a bit later than expected. About four songs in came the first power outage followed by a longer, sustained one after half a dozen songs, at which point I headed for the exit. I'm not sure if they managed to carry on, but they have another couple of gigs this month, so ample opportunity to catch them again soon enough.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Gig guide

Two Cambodian Space Project gigs this weekend. Tonight at La Croisette and tomorrow (Saturday) at Equinox. I'm sure you can manage at least one of them. Srey Thy and CSP then appear at The Village in BKK1 on 16 and 22 Feb, while Krom, busy recording their second album Neon Dark, will have back-to-back appearances at Meta House on 22 Feb and at The Doors the following evening.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Not too late

Jim Mizerski's excellent montage photograph of a young Vann Nath
You have just a few days remaining to visit the Vann Nath Tribute at the Bophana Center on Street 200, as it will close on 12 February. My favourite amongst the artworks on show, were two photographs by Jim Mizerski, containing nearly 3,000 small portrait pictures of the victims from Tuol Sleng to make each large photograph. There were quite a few other artists work represented including Peter Klashorst, Karay, Thomas Pierre, Sou Sophy and Theo Vallier. Take time to visit the exhibition before its too late. Vann Nath is an artist who should not be forgotten.
Vann Nath as he looked on the day of his entry into Tuol Sleng, by Theo Vallier

Vann Nath at work by Thomas Pierre

Jim Mizerski's 2nd photograph montage of Vann Nath in later life

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013


LtoR: James Pringle, James Gerrand, Tim Page and Don North
Big crowd. Big let down, is how I would describe the panel discussion at Meta House tonight. Not a patch on the Himawari session in 2010 with Jon Swain, et al. These get togethers of Indochina war correspondents from the late 60s and 70s always arouse intense interest and tonight was no different. Meta House was awash with the old and ancient, myself included, to watch a documentary about cameraman Neil Davis - who everyone agreed was the best thing since sliced bread - and then a discussion that didn't really focus on anything and left me looking at my watch in the hope that it would conclude sooner than later. The correspondents are here for a reunion and/or to cover the final hours of the Sihanouk story and perhaps they should've left it at that. The idea to wheel them onto a stage was well-intentioned but it fell flat from the start and never recovered. The pa was crap, the questions even crappier and I got indigestion from rushing my dinner to be there on time. I shouldn't have bothered.
Roland Neveu, who has published his photos in the Fall of Phnom Penh


Closing chapter

I watched a lot of the actual cremation ceremony on television last night. I didn't have a press pass so getting close to the action wasn't really an option, hence why I watched it on tv. The smoke surrounding the funeral pyre was a dramatic final chapter on King Father Norodom Sihanouk. It was a moment in history for everyone, especially the Cambodian nation who have rallied behind the persona of the King Father. I saw this at close quarters when I visited the cremation site on Sunday. The grief was palpable, etched on the face of so many, the older generation especially. As a foreigner and having read copiously on the country's modern past, I have my own views on the King Father's place in history, but one part of the ceremony that didn't sit well with me was the excessive attention given to criminals getting gifts from the King and getting so much air-time, especially the convicted foreign pedophile, but its not my country and its not my tradition, so my opinion doesn't really matter. I cannot imagine we will ever witness again what we have seen over the past few months.


Monday, February 4, 2013

The media view

A panel discussion with some interesting journos will be the highlight of the week at Meta House tomorrow evening. At 6pm there's a photographic exhibition opening, Cambodian Requiem, from the book by Tim Page and Horst Faas, followed by a screening of a documentary, Frontline, about the legendary cameraman Neil Davis, killed in Bangkok and then the panel discussion, Cambodia's Past & Present Through the Eyes of the Media, to follow at 8pm. The panel includes Page, himself a veteran war photographer, as well as Roland Neveu, who covered the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, James Pringle and James Gerrand. Previous panel discussions of this nature have been eagerly snapped up and I expect tomorrow's to be the same. Free entrance helps grease the wheels as well.

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

A mark of respect

A deserted section of Veal Mean park even though its surrounded by thousands of people
Earlier this morning at the Veal Mean cremation park. I accompanied the Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys and staff members to pay respects to the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk at his final resting place before tomorrow's cremation ceremony. It's important to keep the youngsters grounded and to give them a sense of history at this momentous time in their own country. Rather surprisingly, the authorities allowed ordinary folk, including a couple of correctly dressed foreigners, to join the thousands shuffling past the King Father's cremation stupa in the scorching sun this morning, passing through a strong security cordon before entering the park and walking from the southern entrance to the northern entrance and out again. All very quick but you could see how much it meant to many of the Cambodians to pay their final respects to their beloved King. There were many tears.
The PPCFC Academy and staff in front of the King Father's cremation stupa

Waiting in line to pay respects to the King Father's final resting place

The east entrance of the King Father's cremation stupa

One final group photo as we made our way from the King Father cremation site

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Mourning the King Father

The specially-built cremation site - by Kampuchea Party Republic
This morning I went to work as usual whilst almost everyone else was witnessing a piece of history. The procession of the King Father Norodom Sihanouk's body from the Royal Palace to the cremation site opposite the National Museum was witnessed by millions of Cambodians, either in person (many waiting for hours under the scorching sun along the route), on huge video screens set up around town or via the wall-to-wall television coverage provided by the tv companies. The streets around my office were as quiet as a mouse, with only the occasional helicopter flying overhead disrupting the peace. For the next couple of days, huge crowds are expected to converge on the capital before the actual cremation ceremony takes place on Monday. I've been invited to attend a small ceremony with my football club colleagues on Sunday morning. I'd better find a white shirt and black trousers from somewhere.

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