Emmanuele Phuon is on her way to doing it once more

dance 2

My little camera doesn’t have a very fast shutter, so apologies for the blurry images in this post.

A comprehensive story in the Phnom Penh Post last week referred to an open rehearsal of a new dance, but it coyly mentioned only a time and no place.  Of course, I had to go, and I have to say that the work is transformative.

Tracking down the location wasn’t all the hard: I simply e-mailed the reporter and got this speedy reply: 

We did not specify in the story because the open rehearsal is in a rather small place with little room for an audience.

And we expected that in the field people who are interested would contact
Amrita Performing Arts. Some of them were invited already.

*  *  *

If you are only one or two people, you could probably show up. As I said, it’s a small place.

And a work in progress.

The concept is quite special and this choreographer rather extraordinary (with critics’comments to prove it), which is why we did a story onthis work in development.

Although I had, by the way, checked the Amrita Web site, there was no clue.  The resulting e-mail with specifics — which I replaced with asterisks to save space — led the way.

I am delighted to report that French-American choreographer Emmanuele Phuon has created a moving modern dance, which she views as 80 percent complete.  It turns the violence of freestyle boxing into a series of balletic moves combining the poetic with the combative. Titled “Brodal Serai,” after the sport’s name in Khmer, the work incorporates spoken monologue as well as Cambodian flute and drum music.

In four or five parts (I lost count), the piece involves dancers who exchange roles throughout.  It not only portrays fighting but also seeks to reveal what is in the boxers’ minds.

dance 1

The floor in the rehearsal hall looks like soft rubber, but no. When I walked on it, I discovered that the surface  is pretty hard, though the dancing boxers fell on it as gracefully as if it were a trampoline.

Ms. Phuon told the Post what was on her mind as she contemplated the choreography:

I thought, ‘Let’s do something on freestyle boxing and show what their lives are: How they train, how they pray, what they think, what they’re afraid of and what they earn…doing some sort of a danced documentary on Khmer freestyle boxing and adding movements to the dance [repertory] in the process.

The choreographer comes to the achievement with an impressive background.  In fact, she had brought Cambodian dance to Manhattan in 2013, and I remember having missed by just a day the chance to see her “Khmeropedies III” at the Guggenheim.  My loss, given the reviews and what I witnessed in Phnom Penh last week.

One reason I write about the experience is that the choreographer’s project illustrates what many perceive as a resurgence of the Cambodian arts scene after the Khmer Rouge eviscerated them in the mid 70s and did away with many of the creators.

For example, indie music, film and, in addition to the performing arts, the visual arts have been showing signs of significant rebirth for a while.

dance 3Created in cooperation with Amrita Performing Arts and its Cambodian contemporary dancers, “Brodal Serai” is one more bit of compelling evidence that the arts are thriving in Cambodia, albeit on a much smaller scale than in many other Southeast Asian countries and, of course, in the West. How nice that the success Emmanuele Phuon has enjoyed to date assuredly will be hers once again.

E-mail: malcolmncarter@gmail.com


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