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Phon Sopheap and Naim Syahrazad rehearse during the Choreography and Dramaturgy Exchange Project
Phon Sopheap and Naim Syahrazad rehearse during the Choreography and Dramaturgy Exchange Project. LORN SEILBOTH

Dancers reach across time and borders for inspiration

Cambodian and Malaysian cultures will unite tonight in an exploration of the cross-over between contemporary and classical dance.

In an event titled "The Meeting of The Contemporary and the Classical: Between Two Cultures", local choreographer Phon Sopheap of Amrita Performing Arts will discuss artistic and cross-cultural exchanges with Malaysian choreographer Naim Syahrazad and dramaturge Lim How Ngean at Java Arts Cafe.

“I wanted to investigate further the whole notion of classical and contemporary dance as a meeting point,” said Lim, who has worked with Sopheap and Naim as part of his Choreography and Dramaturgy Exchange Project, which received financial support from the Malaysian government.

“I didn’t ever intend to have a full end product. We’re just workshopping. I’ve worked with both of them before, and I thought pairing the two of them together would have some interesting results. And it has.”

Attendees will hear from Lim about his exchange project, and there will be a short showing of two scenes the dancers have been workshopping for the past three weeks. There will then be a Q&A-style discussion with Sopheap, Naim and Lim.

Drawing on their rehearsals together, Sopheap and Naim will discuss what they learnt about one another’s cultures, histories and the way this has influenced their dance.

Sopheap said that this experience showed him how his contemporary dance style is shaped by his daily life in Cambodia.

“The way I worked with Naim helped me to define Khmer contemporary dance, and to explore the question ‘Who is Sopheap?’” he said. “We try to show that life is dance, and dance is life. It’s not about the classical anymore. Its about life, it’s the contemporary way.”

While Naim and Sopheap choreographed the dances, Lim acted as dramaturg, a role that required him to shape and develop performance art to ensure that it has a clear and strong structure.

Lim said he didn’t come to the project with a particular narrative or theme in mind, but wanted to explore the personal histories of the dancers themselves.

“I started by asking them a simple question: who are they really?” he said. “Are they just dancers? Do they have an outside life? Does that dancer have a life outside dance?”

While both dancers have been classically trained, Naim has been trained in contemporary dance as well – something Lim saw as another meeting point of two cultures.

“I come from a very multicultural country, where art created from mixing different cultures is very prevalent,” said Lim, adding that he also wanted to explore ways to develop classical art forms without them becoming like “museum pieces” resistant to change.

“There was a time when they were considered modern and contemporary. They were quite avant-garde.”

Sopheap was eager to explore the differences in Khmer and Malaysian culture, with particular emphasis on the ways tradition affects contemporary art.

“Our cultures are really different from each other, but they both have histories of classical dance,” he said. “I now think about how I can bring my tradition to contemporary dance.”

This performance is the first stage in the Choreography and Dramaturgy Exchange Program, with Sopheap travelling to Kuala Lumpur to once again work with Lim and Naim in early 2015.

Sopheap hopes that tonight’s event will show how Cambodia’s historical dance culture still holds relevance today.

“I want to show Khmer people that contemporary dance is about our life, their everyday life. It’s not just dance – it is something else. It’s our life.”

This event is free and begins at 6:30pm downstairs in Java Arts Café. All discussions will be in English with Khmer translation provided.

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