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By Nancy Wozny
Season of Cambodia festival
Khmer Arts Ensemble in A Bend in the River. Photo by John Shapiro, Courtesy Season of Cambodia.
Cambodia has overcome a dark chapter in its history. After the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime nearly destroyed Cambodian arts and intellectual life, the efforts of Cambodian artists ensured that their vibrant culture escaped extinction. Season of Cambodia, an initiative of Cambodian Living Arts, celebrates this country’s rich traditions and innovations.
The festival features more than 125 artists from dance, theater, film, and the humanities, and takes place throughout April and May at 30 different venues in New York City. Both emerging and master artists will perform at such venues as Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Joyce Theater, Abrons Arts Center, and others central locales. Highlights include Emmanuele Phuon’s Khmeropedies III, an exploration of the Monkey character as found in classical male masked dance, and Olden New Golden Blue, a collaboration among five young Cambodian artists and Toronto-based choreographer Peter Chin.
Khmer Arts Ensemble artistic director Sophiline Cheam Shapiro presents A Bend in the River at the Joyce, her third production there. She founded the Ensemble, the country’s most accomplished independent dance company, in 2006. The stylish troupe, expressive in its finely detailed gestures, precise footwork, and dramatically flexed hands, is based in Takhmao, Cambodia. The Ensemble is part of a larger organization, Khmer Arts, based jointly in Takhmao and Long Beach, California.
Shapiro’s new work, which premieres at the State Theatre in Minneapolis on April 5, features a commissioned score, puppetry, costumes, and sets by other Cambodian artists. “The Phnom Penh arts scene has developed enough to offer a compelling pool of talent,” says Shapiro. “In the past, I’ve been largely self-contained, but as more and more like-minded Cambodian artists emerge, I’ve enjoyed abandoning isolation in order to collaborate.”