I am asking you for funds, to create a new dance project in Cambodia that builds upon six years of work in establishing a new vernacular of modern Cambodian dance. The new dance, Brodal Serei is about Khmer boxing. Without your help, my work will stop.
Brodal Serei (free boxing in Khmer) is a big part of Cambodian popular culture. Evidence shows that a style resembling brodal serei existed in the 9th century. Practiced in the Khmer empire’s army, it may be one of the reasons why the country was such a dominant force in Southeast Asia.
Brodal serei is a sport with it’s own physical language, like Cambodian dance, it has it’s own codes and rituals.The dance will reconstruct an atmosphere specific to the sport and to Cambodia.
Brodal Serei was started earlier this year in collaboration with Amrita Performing Arts.
Amrita Performing Arts is an NGO based in Phnom Penh, whose mission is to support and develop the local performing arts, with a particular aim towards developing contemporary work.
Artists who decide to join Amrita are young people, aged 18 to 24. They all come from the Royal University Of Fine Arts and are trained in Cambodian Classical Dance. They all want to find an individual voice and leave their mark. Their family background is often from the arts and therefore there is always economic struggle in this chosen field. They constitute a new class of artists who offer potential of re-generation and catalyzer in a country that offers little.
Tou, Rady and Mo, the dancers in Brodal Serei are amongst the most talented, courageous and promising.
The dancers and myself will collaborate with a professional boxer, Hem Sarann from the RCAF Club, linked to the army. Sarann has already taught the rudiments of boxing to the dancers in a previous work session of 8 weeks (four weeks of training and 4 weeks of rehearsals, which I paid for from my own funds). We have learned to trust and respect each other. This dance will be based on his personal experience, and we will investigate the things that bring it closest to the art of dance: the routine, the rituals, the « emotions “ of the body.
This project stems from the discovery of John Vink’s book about Khmer boxing “Poids Mouche”. These images will accompany me in the creation of the piece. Here is a link to see John’s photographs of our rehearsals:
Why make a dance on boxing?
In the past several years there has been a strong desire for young Cambodian artists to innovate, to find a personal and contemporary voice in dance, while keeping a sense of their cultural identity. I am half Cambodian and I want to participate and assist in the search for modernity in Cambodia: I believe that a class of artists who think independently is the mirror and inversely the catalyzer of a cultural scene that could be more diverse, less consensual… and more importantly, separate from government and power.
My work explores what it is to be tied to a very beautiful but inflexible heritage, in this case, Cambodian Classical Dance. What do we do with it, how is it still relevant, can it take different paths? What influences can we bring to it or does it have to remain pure?
My previous works were based on the training of Khmer Classical Dance. This training was put to use very differently in a trilogy called Khmeropédies I, II and III.
Khmeropédies I was a solo for an Apsara (celestial dancer) who spat, turned her back to the audience, lost her temper… This Apsara did not correspond anymore to an acceptable model of a high priestess, but developed her individuality in an oppressing context.
"Khmeropédies is not only beautiful; not only powerful. It is enlightening"
Toni Morrison, nobel price of literature
Khmeropédies II mixed outside influences of rap and western dance, including ballet, and showed a generation of dancers eager to explore and set free from a heritage that yet define them, Classical Dance being also a way of living in relation to one’s ancestors and masters, religion and country.
Khmeropédies II was developed at White Oak Plantation and received additional help from the Asian Cultural Council.
Part III concentrated on the traditional role of the monkey in Classical Dance. Using the dancers training but getting inspiration from modern ethology and research, we added new movements and themes to the original role.
With the help of “Fondation La Ferthé” and “Un Monde par Tous”, we were able to live a fantastic adventure.
Eric Sargis (professor of anthropology at Yale University, specialist in bio- mechanics) lent us his expertise on the subject. He spent 2 weeks with us in Cambodia to show us how different species of monkeys move, based on anatomical criteria, and how they organize themselves in a group. We watched videos, went to a national reserve to hear gibbons sing…
These two weeks gave the occasion to the dancers to discover a vast subject hiding behind a role that had become second nature to them, a role that they did not question anymore and sometimes performed without any further thought…
And here the link towards a photo report by Magnum photographer John Vink
Khmeropedies III was very well received and got critical acclaim in The New York Times and in the Singapore’s Straits Times