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“A Bend in a River”: First Premiere in Cambodia

Thyna / Khmer Times Share:
Dancers during performance in the U.S. (Photo by Sophiline Arts Ensemble) (Photo by Sophiline Arts Ensemble)

PHNOM PENH, (Khmer Times) – A performance of spellbinding love and vengeance will take to the stage next week by Sophiline Arts Ensemble. 
“A Bend in the River,” the latest work of Mrs. Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, founding artistic director of Khmer Arts Organization, will run at the Chaktomuk Theater from June 13 – 15, 2014.
Mrs. Sophiline was inspired to recreate and rewrite the story from a folktale she read as a teenager. It is about a young girl, Kaley, sailing with her family to her groom’s house down the river. 
Before making it to the wedding, Kaley and her family are attacked by a crocodile named Moha. Prior to taking her last breath, Kaley takes an oath to be reincarnated as a crocodile to avenge her family.
The moral of story revolves around the theme of “resentment leads to downfall” reflecting Mrs. Sophiline’s journey through the Khmer Rouge regime. The collapse of Cambodian society in that period left many victims traumatized, angry and destitute.
“I remember one time when we were just rescued from the Pol Pot regime. People in my village executed Khmer Rouge soldiers out of their anger and frustration. I asked myself whether I should do the same thing because those soldiers killed our loved ones. I, myself, lost my father and my two brothers,” said Mrs. Sophiline.
However, revenge can be sought through redemption. Mrs. Sophiline came to learn about turning revenge into a positive attitude from her dance teachers. Arts and culture were destroyed in the regime. Many of the artists, performers, and musicians were killed.
“The Khmer Rouge demolished our arts and culture, but because of this reason, my teachers tried so hard to instruct all of us to rebuild our identities and keep those traits to live on through generations. Their anger became the motivation for them to push cultural arts to this point it is today,” she continued.
“A Bend in the River” is a new work built on the aesthetics of traditional dance’s foundation. Infusing Khmer classical dance – dated to more than a thousand years – with contemporary approaches, Mrs. Sophiline believes her new choreography will open the audiences’ eyes to the new engaging experience.
“We still stand on the Khmer traditional foundation, but also integrate with new music, modern stage settings and new moves to make performance more modern,” she said.
Some of the approaches used are undulating bodies, pivoting heads, contracting and releasing torsos, tempo changes and asymmetrical floor patterns. The performance will also include the use of vivid reptiles made from rattan and IV tubing as a part of the stage set.
Mrs. Sophiline also said, “I was often questioned whether Sophiline Arts Ensemble is contemporary or traditional, as if these two cannot coexist. But, I believe our classical ballet can be brought to life in any context, in any approach; the moves, the technicality will still stand out.” 
She said, “In order to create contemporary dance, we need to research and explore our traditional dance. The audiences will be able to see how Cambodian dancers shine as performers.”
Ms. Soth Sovanndy, one of the lead dancers in the show, said this new work is quite hard since there are new moves to be learned.
“I am used to performing in dances related to god and divinity. This work spins around mortal villagers’ lives. Still, there are a few challenges, since there are new dance movements in the torso,” she said.
“A Bend in the River” is a collaboration of Mrs. Sophiline with well-known music composer, Dr. Him Sophy, sculptor Mr. Pich Sopheap, costume designer of Lotus Silk boutique, Ms. San Vannary, and set designer, Mr. Kong Vollak. The show received strong support for last year’s performance in the United States.

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