Day Two – Khmer Arts Academy
Today we went out of Phnom Penh to visit the Khmer Arts Academy. The directors had invited Carol several times and she had been unable to make her schedule work out until we arrived. “Would you like to come see some traditional Khmer dance with me?”
“Sure! That sounds great!”
So off we went in her giant armored SUV to a place south of town where Solphiline Cheam hapiro and John Shapiro have started a dance company to revive the old dances and create new works. It was a total surprise.
We got there to find a large covered viewing area and this incredible Angkorean stage. There were a row of chairs waiting for us, and the company was practicing a number called “Magaw”, a dance about a mythical serpent creature, who symbolized fertility. We took our seats while Solphiline narrated.
Solphiline is one of the generation of Khmer dancers who studied right after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, who did their best to exterminate traditional art forms like dance, with its heavy religious and cultural associations. Everywhere you go in Cambodia, the presence of what the Khmer Rouge destroyed is present. For traditional dance, a whole generation of teachers and performers was eradicated, and part of the Academy’s mission is to locate and preserve the bits that remain, like old photos showing how costumes were made, and oral histories of dancers who survived. Very inspiring stuff, but the dance itself was even better. I took a short video with the camera, which doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea.
After watching the practice for awhile, we were invited up on stage to talk with the dancers and musicians with Solphiline translating.
Carol was at her ambassadorial best, asking great questions, being interested and inclusive. It was great and a great honor. The U.S. Embassy had provided a grant for them to publish a manual of the 600+ different gestures that comprise classical Khmer dance, so the Shapiros were eager to showcase the work they’d been doing.
It was an amazing morning. The rest of the day involved travel planning. We’re off to Siem Reap tomorrow night for four days. Another trip to the Russian Market was undertaken, and the mothers made several tuk-tuk rides, which were hair-raising in spots.
Another fabulous Chhona meal capped off the day. Tomorrow, maybe the Palace and then the airport.