News / Arts & Entertainment

'Season of Cambodia' in NYC Showcases Classical, New Arts

Season of Cambodia' in NYC Showcases Classical, New Artsi
May 10, 2013 2:57 PM
Among some two million victims of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s were most of Cambodia’s artists. Much of their knowledge was lost with them, since Cambodian culture is still largely oral. But in the last few decades, new generations of Cambodian artists have sought to revive their culture’s classical arts and invent new forms. VOA's Carolyn Weaver reports
Carolyn Weaver
Among some two million victims of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s were most of Cambodia’s artists.  Much of their knowledge was lost with them, since Cambodian culture is still largely oral.  But in the last few decades, new generations of Cambodian artists have sought to revive their culture’s classical arts and invent new forms.

An international festival designed to further that renaissance, “Season of Cambodia,” brought more than 120 artists to New York to present dance and musical performances, visual arts exhibits, film, theater, workshops and talks in venues all around the city.

Phlouen Prim, executive director of Cambodian Living Arts, which organized the festival, said his group wants Cambodia to be known in the world for its arts and culture “and not just for the killing field.”

“It’s been three decades of work, from 1979, when a few of the artists who survived came back to Phnom Penh and worked on the revival process,” Prim said at the festival’s opening at the Rubin Museum of Art.  “Because we had that gap of generations, the difficulty was to connect the few survivors, the elder with the younger generations.”

The festival’s musical offerings ranged from singers chanting the sacred poetic form known as smot, to groups playing traditional Pin Peat wind and percussion instrumental arrangements, to a California rock band, Dengue Fever, which mixes Cambodian pop and American indie rock styles.  Him Sophy, a prominent composer of classical Cambodian music, presented a new work in progress that combined traditional forms from his country with a Western chamber orchestra and chorus.

Dance is the cardinal art of Cambodia, and the festival includes troupes and performances ranging from the classical to the avant-garde.  At the Guggenheim Museum, a new work called “Khmeropédies III: Source/Primate” featured seven male dancers trained since childhood to dance the role of the monkey, an important character in Cambodian legends.

Choreographer Emmanuèle Phuon worked closely with a Yale University primatologist, Eric Sargis, to study the movements of monkeys and apes from all around the world.

“In Africa, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, so monkeys they (the dancers) had never seen before,” Phuon said. “And Eric explained how these particular animals move or how they behave, and we observed that and made a dance out of that.”

New Yorkers also saw free performances of classical shadow puppet theater by the Wat Bo Troupe, one of the few remaining such companies. Against lit screens, performers wielded tall leather cut-outs that look like shields to retell stories from the Reamker, the Cambodian epic poem based on the Sanskrit Ramayana.

And the Royal Ballet of Cambodia made a rare visit to the United States to perform at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in another work based on sacred legends, "The Legend of Apsara Mera," choreographed by Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, a former prima ballerina.  Females take all the parts in Cambodian classical ballet, dancing as gods, princes, mermaids and ogres - all except for the monkey role, which is reserved for males.

“I can’t express how beautiful it is and I’m so excited, and I’m so lucky to have been here,” said one audience member, Khema Wright, at a post-performance reception.  Wright was a child when her family fled Cambodia. “To see my culture actually here in the United States, in New York, it’s amazing. I feel so privileged,” she said.

Her friend Chhaya Chhoum, who runs Mekong, a community organization for Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants in the Bronx, agreed. “A lot of our community members talk about how they just want to live to die, because they’ve suffered so much,” Chhoum said. “And I think the art really rejuvenates and awakens peoples’ sense of community, love and trust for one another again.”

Members of Chhoum’s group helped decorate a sculptural installation, the “Flowering Parachute Skirt,” the towering effigy of a soldier, by visiting artist Leang Seckon. The grisly, whimsical figure, with a skull for its head, was made with a parachute that fell to earth during the U.S. bombing of Cambodia in the Vietnam War.

Seckon invited Cambodian-Americans in New York to adorn it with fabric flowers cut from sarongs in his native village. The work was the centerpiece of a Season of Cambodia “ceremony of reconciliation” at Columbia University that included American Vietnam War veterans and Cambodians.

Arn Chorn-Pond, a flute player who is a founder of Cambodian Living Arts, was among those who spoke. “I never thought that the flute and speaking is power; I thought that only the burial of guns is power,” he said. “I was wrong.”

Chorn-Pond told the group how his flute-playing saved his life: first from the guards at the work camp where he was sent as a child, and later from his desire for revenge at the Khmer Rouge who killed his family, and the Americans who bombed his country. He was adopted by an American family but has since returned to live in Phnom Penh.

“The art can transform all of the suffering,” he said. “The healing would not be happening for me, I realize, if I do the things the Khmer Rouge want me to do, to kill and get revenge. And now I’m bringing music back to the Khmer Rouge, along the border, right in their face.”

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley












Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”