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Contemporary dancer Belle pictured with Yum Keiko Takanawa at Phnom Penh’s Department of Performing Arts
Contemporary dancer Belle pictured with Yum Keiko Takanawa at Phnom Penh’s Department of Performing Arts. Hong Menea

Cultures collide tonight at experimental dance show

Contemporary dancer Chumvan Sodhachivy, commonly known as Belle, will play a starring role on and off stage in two routines at Phnom Penh’s Department of Performing Arts tonight: an education-themed dance and an experimental Japanese duo.

Belle, who trained at the Royal School of Fine Arts and has danced with Amrita Performing Arts, has choreographed a dance called ABC, which features seven Cambodian dancers and one speaker.

ABC tells the story of a family going about their daily routine, and will include a reading of a classic Khmer poem, written by Krom Ngoy, about the importance of education.

“It talks about education – how your parents give birth to you and teachers teach you to become a good student, a good person,” the dancer said.

“In society right now, some of the younger generation don’t want to study much – they just want to become a star. They think it’s easier and faster to get a job that way. But that’s just the short term.”

Following the performance of ABC, Belle will collaborate with Japanese dancer Yum Keiko Takanawa in Loss, a dance duet produced by the living arts collective A.lter S.essio. Loss, initially written as a solo performance for Takanawa, has already toured countries across the world, from France to Brazil to Canada.

The piece was originally written with a view to being performed in a nightclub setting, said artistic director Fabrice Planquette. Each dancer performs on a white square sheet, and rather than being seated traditionally, the audience gathers around to watch. Video will also be projected onto the white sheets.

Planquette noticed how the audience reaction changed depending on the venue. In Laos, for instance, Takanawa danced in a circus tent, whereas in Indonesia she performed in a traditional theatre. And while the circus audience was noisy and took a lot of pictures, the Indonesian audience stuck to similar codes as in a traditional European theatre.

He added that when performing in nightclubs, they had had a more lively response as the audience were used to this kind of performance art: “They know experimental music; they know experimental video.”

Of changing the performance to suit two dancers rather than one, Planquette said he preferred the exchange between two people rather than for just one performer, and for the dancers to come into contact with the audience. “For me, the writing is made for human relations, for exchange. It’s really interesting to see Belle in this concept. The audiovisual score is exactly the same for everybody,” he said.

The production’s next stop will be Thailand, where Takanawa will perform with the Thai dancer Pichet Klunchun.

Takanawa, who trained with Butoh dance company in Japan, said: “It’s different for me – solo, I really have to concentrate, and with duo I have to concentrate as well, but I feel more energy, because of the other person – so it’s a different experience.”

The performances of ABC and Loss will begin at 6:30pm at the Department of Performing Arts, Street 173. Tickets cost $4 or $2 for under-25s.

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