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Ballet school set for first performance

Cambodia's first school of classical ballet will hold its inaugural performance early next month.

Thirty students from Phnom Penh’s Central School of Ballet – some as young as 7 – will dance at the Department of Performing Arts theatre on December 8 and 9.

“I’m excited, but I’m kind of afraid that I might make a mistake,” said 13-year-old Mai Hastings, who has been studying ballet since September.

To prepare for her first appearance on the stage, she is practising three times a day.

“You really have to focus on what you’re doing,” she said.

The performance will include one classical ballet and two contemporary dance pieces – all choreographed by the school’s co-founder Stephen Bimson, a graduate of the UK’s Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance.

While some performers have studied ballet for only several months – others have been dancing for years in other countries.

The lead dancer on Saturday will be a daughter of Mormon missionaries from the US, while on Sunday – when Mormons are not permitted to work – she will be replaced by an experienced dancer from the American embassy.

The show will feature mostly expat dancers – England, Japan, France, Australia, Italy, and New Zealand are some of the countries that will be represented – but the last piece will be performed by a group of Cambodian children who received scholarships from the Central School of Ballet.

Referred to the school through a local NGO called Empowering Youth Cambodia, the children, many of whom are orphans, choreographed their own piece, Bimson said.

The Central School of Ballet opened in the start of this year in a second-floor studio not far from the Chinese Embassy.

Bimson and co-founder Devi Vanhon (who is a grand-daughter of a Cambodian princess) worked together to transform what used to be a living room into a dance studio with large mirrors and a special shock-absorbing floor.

The school currently has about 60 students, and offers four dance classes a day, Monday to Thursday.

Preparing the first performance has been extremely hard, said to Bimson, who described the effort as “blood, sweat, tears, and bodily fluids.”

 In addition to teaching ballet full-time, he had been holding six-hour rehearsals on Saturdays and Sundays for the past six weeks.

Vanhon was in charge of renting a theatre, making costumes, dolls, and hobby horses, and finding sponsors.

“We won’t cut corners because it’s an investment in our school and we don’t want to have anything that’s not right,” Bimson said.

Phnom Penh’s ballet students are expected to adhere to strict rules – which include attending class at least twice a week, not arriving late and not missing rehearsals.

If a student arrives 10 minutes late, he or she is not allowed to participate, according to Vanhon.

“It’s for their own safety,” she said. “It’s actually not safe for them to dance if they haven’t warmed up.”

Bimson assures everyone he is not just teaching ballet, but also important life skills.

“This is not simply an after-school activity for children,” he said.

“It’s a 300-year-old art form... and to fulfil yourself as an artist you have to have a certain [amount of discipline].”

The Central School of Ballet’s first performance is entitled Beginnings. Tickets are $8, and the show starts at 7pm. The Department of Performing Arts is located near the intersection of Street 173 and Street 384.
For more information, visit the Central School of Ballet's website.

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