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Benefit aids dance icon

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One of the nation’s most renowned classical dancers, Em Theay, performs at fundraiser to help her family recover from fire

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Em Theay instructs members of the National Department of Performing Arts Dance Ensemble in The Tenth Dancer.

A screening of the award-winning film The Tenth Dancer and an impromptu dance performance were held at a benefit for one of Cambodia's most renowned classical dancers and singers, Em Theay, at the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre on Sunday.

At 76 years of age, Em Theay has lived through more than her fair share of adversity.

In March this year, her house, which provided a roof over the heads of her children and grandchildren, burned down in a tragic fire. During the fire, Em Theay and her family lost all their possessions, including a precious handwritten 60-year-old songbook.

To aid Em Theay and her family, the Bophana Centre held a benefit to help raise money for the construction of a new house with a showing of the biographical documentary The Tenth Dancer and a surprise classical dance performance.

An estimated 80 to 90 percent of Cambodia's professional artists perished during the Khmer Rouge regime, including most of the members of the royal dance troupe.

The Tenth Dancer is the story of a performer who survived these turbulent times and who works tirelessly to pass on her unique knowledge to a devoted pupil, set against the backdrop of a devastated country.

Organised by Toni Shapiro-Phim, director of research and archiving at Khmer Arts in Takhmao, the screening was followed by a question-and-answer session with Em Theay and a performance by three generations of classical dancers: Em Theay, her 56-year-old daughter and 27-year-old granddaughter.

Shapiro-Phim has studied Khmer dance and worked with Em Theay for more than 20 years. When she heard about the fire, she contacted people from around the world to spread the word and garner support.

"We need to help and honour Em Theay during this time of need," she said.

During  the question-and-answer session, the topic meandered towards Em Theay's experience during the Khmer Rouge regime. In response to a question from an audience member, Em Theay performed the same solo song and dance that she previously used to entertain the Khmer Rouge cadres.

While undoubtedly a celebration of Khmer culture, the importance of helping Em Theay and her family recover from the fire was reinforced repeatedly during the fundraiser.

"Some of the things that had even survived the Khmer Rouge years were destroyed in this fire," said Shapiro-Phim, adding that she is also planning a benefit concert and a DVD, the profits from which will go to Em Theay.

For more information about future benefits, or to donate, email Shapiro-Phim at toni@khmerarts.org.

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