Saturday, April 10, 2010

A real shame

A chest infection has laid me low so I had to miss the two Khmer Arts Ensemble performances at their Takhmao headquarters last night and tonight. A real shame for sure. These classical dance shows are so irregular that it hurts to miss the opportunity. They were performing Ream Eyso & Moni Mekhala in celebration of next week's Khmer New Year. I'd found it almost impossible to get to see a doctor yesterday and had to make do with a visit to a pharmacy for a bagful of tablets, the Khmer way of dealing with any kind of health problem. The more tablets the better. My dry coughing is giving me a splitting headache, so even more tablets required for that. I did get out to football this afternoon and will try again tomorrow but aside from that, I'm stuck indoors, feeling sorry for myself, of course.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bring on the rains

A wonderful opportunity to see classical Cambodian dance being performed by some of the most skilled practitioners of the artform in the country, is available this week at the Khmer Arts Theater in Takhmao, just outside Phnom Penh. For two evenings on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th April, the Khmer Arts Ensemble will perform one of the classic dances, Ream Eyso & Moni Mekhala, which is effectively a dance designed to bring on the rains as Mekhala, the water goddess with a crystal ball, battles with Ream Eyso, the storm spirit and his axe. The legend suggests this battle is the origin of thunder and lightning. The performances, which are free, will begin at 6.30pm after a half-hour introduction from the choreographer, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Dance and stuff

The Khmer Arts Ensemble doing what they do best
Yesterday was so busy I didn't have time to fart let alone post anything on my blog. The introduction to classical dance by Sophiline Cheam Shapiro and Toni Shapiro-Phim at Living Room last night was excellent. I learnt more about this art-form in two hours than I have in watching countless shows, as Sophiline demonstrated the hand movements and body postures in detail and spoke about her own involvement and thinking in maintaining and upgrading classical dance in Cambodia. She's been responsible for brand new works, which might upset some in the establishment, but after thirty years in the arts she rightly feels she deserves to be able to create and perform these mould-breaking dances. In answer to one of my questions, she felt that despite being intrinsically linked to Cambodia's cultural heritage, classical dance doesn't get the television coverage it should and the youth of Cambodia are not being helped to understand what they are seeing when a performance is shown. To that end, when her Khmer Arts Ensemble perform in Takhmau on 9 and 10 April, she will conduct a pre-performance workshop to explain what the audience are about to see, as well as a Q&A session after the show. This is exactly what's required in my view, to make classical dance more accessible to all. I recommend you put the dates in your diary and make the effort to get out and see her professional dance company perform one of the classics, Ream Eyso Moni Mekhala. The television companies should take note as well.

It rained very heavily during the night and early morning (with accompanying thunder and lightning), leaving many roads under water in the city when I came to work. The sun hasn't appeared and rain looks likely during the day as well. Do I make a good weatherman? Tomorrow and Sunday sees the start of the new Cambodian football season. So that'll keep me busy for the next few months with four games each weekend and a midweek match as well. Regular readers will be pleased to hear that all football reports will be relegated (football terminology) to my new football-only blog here. On Sunday night at 7pm at Meta House, the Tenth Dancer will get an airing and if you haven't seen this film that focuses on classical dance revival in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge regime, make it a date. The fabulous Em Theay is one of the featured artists.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Classical dance at its best

Sophiline Cheam Shapiro instructing one of her troupe from the Khmer Arts Ensemble
The Khmer Arts Ensemble is the only independent professional classical Cambodian dance and music troupe in the country. It develops and performs the original choreography of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, as well as rare works from the classical back catalogue, so to speak. They are based in Takhmau and are planning to perform for 2 nights just prior to the Khmer New Year, on their home territory. Ream Eyso Moni Mekhala will be the classical story they will perform on 9 and 10 April - more details to follow.
In the meantime, tomorrow night (Thursday 25 March), at the Cafe Living Room at 6.30pm, you can get an introduction to the history and cultural context of classical Khmer dance from Sophiline Cheam Shapiro herself, accompanied by author and dance ethnologist Toni Shapiro-Phim. It should be a very interesting presentation. Count me in.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Cultural stuff

There are changes afoot at the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Ms Ou Phalline has taken over as director of the museum from Hab Touch, who has been responsible for many positive changes and improvements at the museum during his long tenure. He has been appointed Director-General in charge of the Department General of Cultural Affairs, which oversees just about everything to do with Khmer art and culture. Find out more at
The team from Khmer Arts Ensemble, currently in Northern India
On the subject of culture, whilst the stage at Chaktomuk Theatre has been groaning under the weight of various performance groups during the last two weeks of the national performing arts festival, a small team from Khmer Arts Ensemble has been over in Northern India promoting classical Cambodian dance. 4 dancers and 2 musicians accompanied by manager Chanveasna Chum have been performing since 21 February and until 12 March alongwith 150 other artists from Thailand, Indonesia and the northeastern states of India, entertaining audiences in various cities with traditional dances to showcase the art and culture of each area.
This Thursday at 6.30pm, a music concert featuring the great and the good of Cambodia popular music will take place at Olympic Stadium. It's free, sponsored by Smart Mobile and will host such luminaries as Preap Sovath, Meas Soksophea, Sokun Nisa and a host of other local favourites. Don't say I didn't tell you.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Festival season

The opening scene, Euphoria, from Seasons of Migration
The national performing arts festival hit the heights with Season of Migration this afternoon, to a healthy-sized audience at Chaktomuk Theatre. This was a rare performance of the Sophiline Cheam Shapiro-choreographed work by her Khmer Arts Ensemble and the four-act show reminded all present that when classical Cambodian court dance is done well, it looks seamless. The all female troupe glided across the stage, so light on their feet, shimmering in their glittery costumes as they brought to life the gods and goddesses who have to adjust to a new existence and surroundings on earth, experiencing culture shock en route. Most of the audience were Khmer, a few barangs heard about it on the grapevine and turned up, as did the television cameras. We simply don't see enough performances of classical dance in Phnom Penh, certainly of this high standard, and it's high time the Ministry of Culture sought ways of bringing more performances into the public domain.
A scene where the divinities are adjusting to their new life on earth
The final act of Seasons of Migration is called Equilibrium
The deliberate movements and gorgeous costumes characterize classical dance
A scene from the final act of the performance

Labels: , ,

Street performance

Concluding the recent Dansez Roam! series of events by the CCF, the park surrounding Wat Botum will come alive this Sunday night (28th) from 6.30pm onwards, with over 20 performers, including Belle, who will have to battle for space with the keep-fit aerobic groups that inundate the park at that time. Under the banner of La rue danse, there will be eight dance areas dotted around the park where individuals and small groups of contemporary dancers, hip-hop and traditional performers will strut their stuff. The idea is to bring the dancers closer to the audience, with a projection screen also showing dance images by Anders Jiras. It will be an interesting experiment given that the sound systems that boom out the music which accompanies the keep-fit enthusiasts is usually loud enough to make your ears bleed. Bring ear-plugs. This afternoon (2.30pm), the Khmer Arts Ensemble are performing their very own Seasons of Migration classical dance story at Chaktomuk Theater, as part of the national performing arts festival that's taking place at the venue this week.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 22, 2010

Taking the stage

As part of a two week national performing arts festival that is taking place in Phnom Penh, though you wouldn't know it through the complete lack of coverage in the western media, the Khmer Arts Ensemble will be making a rare public performance of one of their key classical dances, Seasons of Migration, this Thursday (25 February) at Chaktomuk Theater. The start time is 2.30pm and its free to the public. In fact, there are three shows each day at Chaktomuk, with performers coming from around the country to showcase their traditional performance art. But as I said, you wouldn't know it. I went to the theater last week to find out more and no-one could give me a programme of events or tell me who and when they were performing. The Khmer Arts Ensemble are a professional touring dance and music troupe based in Takhmau and they develop and perform the original choreography of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro as well as rare works from the classical repertoire. Find out more here. On the same day, Thursday, a new exhibition of paintings, Depth of Hope, by one of my favourite Khmer artists, Chhim Sothy will open at the Reyum Gallery in the city.
Update: I've just got hold of a translated copy of the festival programme. It shows 3 performances each day being played out at Chaktomuk at 8am, 10am and 2.30pm. The performances are mainly from provincial performance groups performing Yike, Lakhon Bassac and Lakhon Niyey as well as the Seasons of Migration on Thursday, on Friday at 2.30pm the Cambodian Living Arts will present wedding music and on Saturday, Sovanna Phum will also perform.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's all about dance

Performers from the Khmer Arts Ensemble at practice
There's a lot of dance stuff taking place this year, whether its classical, contemporary and a combination of both. When I hear about it, you'll know too. Currently in town are a collective from Singapore and beyond under the auspices of the Flying Circus Project, hosted by Amrita Performing Arts. They're in Phnom Penh at the moment but will be going up to Siem Reap in a day or two. Not sure if the collaboration with local artists like Belle will translate into a public performance anywhere. Meanwhile Meta House will be hosting a couple of Saturday night dance pieces directed by Bob Ruijzendaal over the next two weekends. On 9 January, Leng Sakkona will collaborate with Mom and Davy for an experimental piece linked to sounds and on 16 January, Mom, Davy and Sopheap will present a revision of a show they performed a few weeks ago at the same venue. Later in the year Amrita will be taking their Khmeropedies II project to Hong Kong, Singapore, New York and New Haven. Created by Emmanuèle Phuon, it has elements of classical court dance and contemporary movements and will involve such luminaries as Belle, Sam Sathya and Chey Chankethya. Also the Khmer Arts Ensemble under the tutelage of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro will be putting on classical shows in Cambodia before heading over to the United States later in the year for a major tour.
A brand new book dedicated to dance in Cambodia is just out. Beyond the Apsara – Celebrating Dance in Cambodia was co-edited by Stephanie Burridge and Fred Frumberg of Amrita and published by Routledge India. With ten chapters by established international practitioners and 25 essays written by a wide range of Cambodian dancers, the book honors the many efforts to revitalize Cambodian dance, as well as while expressing the hopes and fears of today’s generation of Cambodian dancers. The launch took place at the World Dance Alliance conference in New Delhi at the end of November. Additional launches are scheduled in Singapore and Phnom Penh early this year. 242 pages and retailing at just under $100. A peek at the contents reveals essays from HRH Princess Buppha Devi, Toni Shapiro-Phim, Hun Pen, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro and others. And Belle is on the front cover photo.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, September 12, 2009

One of the lucky ones

One of the two Moni Mekhala's receives plaudits from her fans at the end of the show
Well, I was one of the lucky ones to get into watch the Khmer Arts Ensemble perform at Chenla Theatre Friday night, but many more went away very disappointed. The KAE troupe did a marvellous job onstage with a stunning classical performance but offstage, especially the scenes in front of the theatre, were embarrasing for the organisers, the French Cultural Center (CCF). Intent on giving everyone a chance to see the Lakhaon Festival, free of charge at Chenla all week, they adopted a first come, first served policy, which was quite simply disastrous. Khmers don't know how to queue at the best of times, but as soon as there was a whiff of the doors opening, bodies just piled forward leaving those in the queue, having patiently waited their turn for up to 2 hours, without a hope in hell of getting into see the show. The same had happened last Monday, when I was one of those standing in the queue, so clearly the organisers had not learnt their lesson or addressed the problem. The crowd-control security were an absolute joke and should never be employed by anyone ever again. In the theatre the organisers were proudly announcing how many people had been through the doors all week, conveniently forgetting to mention the hundreds who were turned away, fuming with how badly organised the events were. It's a great idea to provide these cultural activities free to all but to prevent the appalling scenes witnessed Monday and Friday (I didn't go any other night but heard it was a similar story all week) the CCF need to clearly re-think their ticketing policy. I suggest they take a leaf out of the Amrita way of organising their events where they make tickets available beforehand to interested parties and avoid the free-for-all that ensued Monday and Friday. Rant over.
Now back to the successful part of the evening, the wonderful performance from the KAE company. The story of Ream Eyso (the baddie) and Moni Mekhala (the goodytwoshoes) is one of the Khmer classics and with her own interpretation, KAE founder Sophiline Cheam Shapiro brought the stage to life with splashes of colour and outstanding co-ordination amongst her onstage team. It looked great in every respect, sounded wonderful as well and the audience responded accordingly with copious applause throughout. With Van Molyvann and Chheng Phon as the special guests it was a fitting spectacle and a reminder that hours of practice does indeed make perfect. If you get the opportunity to see the KAE in action, grab it with both hands. I was fortunate to see them rehearsing the piece on Saturday at their Takhmau headquarters but the onstage show was infinitely better. My grateful thanks to Veasna for arranging for my invite and seat - I was so glad I wasn't one of the many disappointed trudging their way home. And it was great to see so many well-known dance faces including Belle and Sam Sathya in the audience.
Moni Mekhala in a scene from the beginning of the performance
The Khmer Arts Ensemble cast take their bow at the end of the show
Flowers were handed to the main performers, 2 Moni Mekhala's and 2 Ream Eyso's
The whole stage cast receive the applause of the packed house at Chenla


Friday, September 11, 2009


Quite serious flooding in the north of the country is threatening my proposed trip to Kompong Cham and Kratie in the latter part of next week during the Pchum Ben holidays. Yesterday, parts of Kratie and Kompong Thom for example were under 2 metres of water after rains in the past week. National Highway 7 was closed in two locations outside the provincial capital of Kratie. My plan was for a moto ride along the west bank of the Mekong River, across to Chhlong and up to Kratie for an overnight stop. Then back down and along the east bank of the river but with thousands of hectares of land and over 2,000 homes having been flooded, it looks like I'll have to leave that trip for another day.
Tonight at 7pm is the Khmer Arts Ensemble performance of Ream Eyso & Moni Mekhala at the Chenla Theatre - the same show that I saw in rehearsal at their Takhmau home last Saturday. Fingers crossed I can get in to watch the show this time after my aborted attempt to watch the Royal Ballet on Monday evening.
I'm really looking forward to the architectural tour on Saturday morning with The Heritage Mission folks around the old French district of Phnom Penh. The tour party has been limited to about 30 I think and I know many other people have been unable to get a place. It's scheduled for 3 hours. The architectural heritage of Phnom Penh is unique and as much as possible needs to be done to raise awareness of what the city has today, so it's not lost tomorrow in case the Khmer preference for something new takes precedence amongst the city planners. This month has been designated Our City month and there are various events taking place to mark it, including this tour. One date to look out for is Wednesday 30th September at the CCF Cinema (7pm) when 150 years of Urban Architecture in the city will be discussed and dissected.
On Sunday I will be off up to Siem Reap for a few days but before I go, my concentration will be firmly fixed on the proceedings at the Olympic Stadium as the first leg of the Cambodian Premier League football play-offs take place. In the regular season, Phnom Penh Crown came out on top and will face Naga Corp, who finished fourth, at 2pm. Whilst I have a preference for Naga to win, I fear Phnom Penh Crown will be too strong for them. At 4pm, second-placed Preah Khan Reach take on Khemara Keila, who finished 3rd. If Kuoch Sokumpheak's ankle injury clears up and he plays for Khemara they will win, mark my words. The winners of the two games will meet to decide who will be crowned as the CPL league champions in two weeks time, 26th September.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Final instalment

One of the Khmer Arts Ensemble's classical dancers
The hand fans add a splash of colour to this traditional dance
The final instalment of my photos from the rehearsal of the Khmer Arts Ensemble that I witnessed on Saturday morning at their Takhmau base. The company's version of the classic story Ream Eyso & Moni Mekhala will be performed at Chenla Theatre this coming Friday as part of the Lakhaon Festival. Let's hope that its easier to get in than it was Monday evening. The Khmer Arts headquarters is an open-sided theatre in a traditional design, a little akin to the Chan Chhaya Pavilion that fronts the Royal Palace.
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro helping one of her leading dancers
The photo shows the sampots worn by the dancers - the different colours denote male and female characters
The company line-up for their end of rehearsal bow
Time for a rest before the girls introduced themselves individually
A Q&A after the performance allowed the dancers and the audience to speak
Sophiline introduces the company's master teacher Penh Yom
The pinpeat orchestra led by music teachers Meas Saem and Ros Sokun
Welcome to Khmer Arts Academy in Takhmau
The imposing background to the rehearsal venue at Takhmau


Monday, September 7, 2009

2nd instalment

The character of Moni Mekhala and her magic jeweled ball
Here is the 2nd instalment of photos from the Khmer Arts Ensemble's rehearsal staged at Takhmau on Saturday morning, in prep for their Friday night performance at Chenla Theatre this week (which is free and starts at 7pm). Throughout the hour long rehearsal, the founder of the company Sophiline Cheam Shapiro was providing tips and gestures for the dancers to follow accompanied by her dance mistress Penh Yom, a former dancer and teacher herself.
Coloured fans play an important role in this revised story of Ream Eyso & Moni Mekhala
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro providing some vital pointers to improve the performance
The blue fans denote waves and clouds
More practice in preparation for Friday's first public showing of this work
Three of the company's dancers pass close by
The open-sided theatre rehearsal area at the Takhmau HQ of Khmer Arts Ensemble


Watching rehearsals

The Khmer Arts Ensemble dancers go through some warm-up routines
The rehearsal I viewed on Saturday morning took over an hour as the Khmer Arts Ensemble troupe of classical dancers were put through their paces by teacher Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, adding some final touches before the group perform at the Chenla Theatre this coming Friday as part of the Lakhaon Festival that's already underway at Chenla every night this week. The story is the well-known Ream Eyso & Moni Mekhala, a standard amongst the classical performers who have all attended the Royal University of Fine Arts before joining the professional touring troupe at Khmer Arts, located in Takhmau. The company rehearse both old standards and new works created by Sophiline Cheam Shapiro every morning from Tuesday through til Saturday at their headquarters. This is the first group of photos from the rehearsal as the dancers were warming up the main performance, watched by about 30 or so interested visitors.
Practice makes perfect for one of the company
A classic pose for this dancer, note the knee supports underneath the sampot
Each dancer must develop great strength in their feet, legs and arms to be able to dance for long periods
The girls kept expert formation and timing throughout the practice, developed over many months of rehearsals
Sophiline was giving advice and support throughout the practice session


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ensemble magic

Some of the Hanuman team with Dany standing in center
Last night was a send-off party for Dany, who has married her sweetheart from Australia and will leave for a new life down under towards the end of this month. For the last five years she's worked as part of the Hanuman team, more recently as manager of the fashion boutique Kambuja. As has been the norm for most afternoons and evenings this week, the heavens opened and deposited large amounts of rainfall on the city.
This morning I was up and out early doors and off to Takhmau by moto. It was the open rehearsal by the Khmer Arts Ensemble at their grandiose headquarters, of the piece of classical dance that they will perform at Chenla Theatre next Friday as part of the Lakhaon Festival being run by the French Cultural Center. They won't perform the whole work, Ream Eyso & Moni Mekhala, as its two hours long, but instead an abridged version of just under an hour will be staged by the Ensemble's dance troupe and musicians. I attended a closed rehearsal a few months ago and posted quite a few pictures as well as text about the Khmer Arts team so this time around I'll talk about the piece of work itself. Essentially a sacred dance asking the dieties for rain to water the land, its at the very core of traditional Khmer dance and tells the story of Moni Mekhala, the goddess of the seas and her struggles against Ream Eyso, a demon who is determined to steal her magic jeweled ball. The demonstration-cum-rehearsal today was performed by 18 of the touring company's troupe and 8 musicians and singers. Explanations of what was taking place to the assembled 30 or so dance fans who'd made the trip from the city, were provided by the founder of Khmer Arts, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, who has been teaching this story to her troupe for the last two years, but adding her own special touches to the work, including colourful hand fans which represent clouds and which add a definite splash of colour, movement and vitality to the piece. There was a brief question and answer session with the dancers, who introduced themselves individually, and musicians afterwards before the rehearsal ended and we can now look forward to Friday's performance at Chenla. Photos of today's rehearsal will follow later as I'm just out the door to watch football at Olympic Stadium.
A scene from this morning's rehearsal in Takhmau


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Coming up next week

In September of last year I watched a new movie by the Khmer Mekong Films team called Heart Talk at Meta House. It was effectively a preview audience screening to get feedback on KMF's 2nd feature-length film. Next week, on Friday 4th September, the film will get its gala premiere at the Sorya Cinema, next to the Central Market, at 7.30pm, under the new name of Vanished. It's a suspense-thriller-murder story, starring Saray Sakana, one of the country's rising stars.
Also coming up soon will be a new performance by the star of Cambodia's contemporary dance scene, Belle (as seen on the cover of The Cambodia Daily), who will join with Japanese artists to present a performance at the Parkway Center, 2nd floor, at 6.30pm on Tuesday 1st September. Belle has just returned from Taiwan and will soon take off for a two-month sojourn to Europe to further expand her repertoire.
Next Friday, 4th September, will also mark the beginning of the Lakhaon Festival here in Phnom Penh, which'll last for 1 week and include revived and new performances of dance, poetry and spoken theatre by groups such as the Khmer Arts Ensemble, the School of Fine Arts and the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. All performances will take place at the Chenla Theatre from 7pm from the 4th to the 11th, with the Khmer Arts Ensemble and their fertility dance-drama, Ream Eyso and Moni Mekhala, taking place on Monday 7th. If it was up to me, I'd like to see at least five of the 8 shows but I think seats will be at a premium. The plays will be in Khmer with English and French subtitles to make them accessible to all.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On the grapevine

Still no progress on loading photos with my blog postings.
Just received an invite for the soft opening this coming Saturday of the new Lotus Blanc Restaurant, about fifty metres from the Hanuman office on St 51 in Boeung Keng Kang 1. Lotus Blanc is the hotel and restaurant training facility that is housed at the PSE center in Stung Meanchey, which has been providing skills and employment opportunities for children from families making a living from the municipal rubbish dump for the last few years. This second restaurant will be open for breakfast and lunch only and will be used as another training facility for the youngsters. I've tasted the food at the original restaurant and if this is just as good, it'll be a nice option for lunchtimes.
I've just confirmed my place on the Mekong Discovery Trail (MDT) 'fam' trip on 21-24 August. Its a venture by the Ministry of Tourism/SNV to generate interest and awareness of the MDT by taking private sector tour operators to see what the MDT has to offer and to see how we can incorporate that into what we offer our clients. It's certainly an area that Hanuman is very interested in, so I'm keen to make the trip. The program includes visits to Kratie, Stung Treng, Preah Rumkel, the Sopheak Mitt waterfall near the border with Laos, the Anlung Cheuteal dolphin pool and the island of Koh Trong. Should be an enjoyable adventure. Obviously I'll fill you in on the details after the event. Hopefully with some photos, he said sarcastically!
Forgot to mention yesterday that the Cambodian U-23 national football team will be hosting a friendly match against the Singapore U-23s on Sunday 27th September as part of their preparation for the SEA Games in December. Coach Scott O'Donell has his 25-man squad in mind, though it's not yet been publicly announced, and is likely to be reduced to a 20-man squad to take to Laos for the tournament itself.
Finally, just had a whisper that the folks from the Khmer Arts Ensemble, out at Takhmau, will be performing as part of a festival run by the French Cultural Center, at the Chenla Theatre on Monday 7th September. The Khmer Arts dancers are a professional touring troupe so this will be classical Cambodian dance at its very best. More details to follow when I get them.

Labels: , , ,