News / Arts & Entertainment

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

Season of Cambodia' in NYC Showcases Classical, New Artsi
X
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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

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.”