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A scene from 'The Spirit Within' from Cambodian Living Arts
A scene from 'The Spirit Within' from Cambodian Living Arts. PHOTO SUPPLIED

It’s a family affair

Cambodian Living Arts’ (CLA) new dance show, The Spirit Within, centres on the loving but fractured relationship between a sickly mother who lives in the provinces and her fashionable young daughter who lives in the city.

Contrasting traditional and modern Cambodian life, the story transitions back and forth between the mother’s memories of past events and ceremonies and the present day in which those customs are in danger of fading away.

Troupe leader Chhon Sena said the show at the Plae Pakaa theatre aims to entertain and educate on Cambodian culture – past and present.

“It is very important as I am an artist who loves to preserve art,” said Chhon. “When I can show this dance performance, I felt like I am proud to be Cambodian with a long history and a show the tourist to see not just to keep it.”

The Spirit Within is based on a performance which debuted at the CLA Amatak Festival in August this year. The performance is directed by French-Cambodian Jean-Baptiste Phou, whose past productions The Anarchist and Cambodia, Here I Am have been performed in Cambodia and France.

Phou coached the troupe through a six-week workshop, working on everything from developing the plot to choosing props and costumes to fine-tuning the lighting.

“They had different workshops where everyone participated: creative writing, inventing dialogue, formal research on rituals, improvisation,” he said via email.

Phou said the show’s performance elements – including comical masks and traditional clothes and instruments – match the show’s major themes.

“The form is mainly modern theatre, but mixed with music and some traditional theatre form," he said.

Challenged by strict time constraints, Phou used his experiences in theatre production and his understanding of both Western and Cambodian cultures to create a show that would resonate widely.

“This should not be intellectual,” he said. “My intention is not to ‘teach’ anything, but to create emotions.”

Phou added: “For those who are not familiar with Cambodia, they will certainly discover some aspects of the Khmer culture, through essential ceremonies and rituals.”

CLA’s season started this week at the recently renovated Plae Pakaa theatre. It will also showcase classical and folk dance with Children of the Bassac and traditional yike theatre with The Story of Mak Therng.

CLA communications manager Marion Gommard said the troupe enjoyed a 40 per cent increase in audiences at the theatre last season, with a 50 per cent increase in Cambodian audiences.

“We are always working towards increasing Cambodian audiences. One of our main goals is to create sustainable performances,” Gommard said.

The Spirit Within will play Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Plae Pakaa Theatre, next to the National Museum, until March 28. For online bookings and ticket prices visitcambodianlivingarts.org.

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