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Dancing under the stars at Wat Botum Park

CCF will conclude its Dansez Roam festival Sunday with evening performances at one of the city’s liveliest public spaces

Phnom Penh
AS Sunday’s sun goes down this weekend on Wat Botum Park, Cambodia’s most adventurous dancers will come out as the stars appear and perform on the pathways. A free dance event arrives at one of Phnom Penh’s busiest, noisiest and most public places.

February’s Dansez Roam festival concludes with La Rue au Wat Botum, a spectacle of movement featuring performers from all schools of dance now happening in Cambodia.

The French Cultural Centre (CCF) and Amrita Performing Arts have organised over 20 performers for this open-air event

Eight dance areas will be spaced throughout the park, lit and surrounded by cushions to sit on. Audience members can stay in a single spot or wander about, as dancers will visit each site performing five-minute compositions.

The artists range from Khmer classical court dancers to circus performers and traditional Lakhaon Khaol monkeys. B-Boy troupe Tiny Toones brings Cambodian hip-hop culture into the mix. Emerging choreographers will present their own culturally resonant forms of contemporary dance.

Amid the makeshift stages, a large projection screen will display photographic stills from past performances. The public can watch live events while reflecting on this archive of dance development over the past three years.

Photographer Anders Jiras recognises that this mosaic of brief individual performances differs from the collectivity of pure classical dance, but also allows artists to perform for themselves.

After dark, solo dancers and couples will be separated into separate lighted areas. But no outdoor show can stay isolated from its surroundings. Although Dansez Roam has official authorisation to use the venue, it must still contend with the vendors, light shows and aerobics groups that give Wat Botum Park its unique evening flavour.

CCF Director Alain Arnaudet confirms that multiple blasting sound systems may pose a challenge for performers. “As we don’t use all the venue, we suggest aerobics groups continue [to the] south [side of the park]; there’s enough places for everybody,” he said, but he admits the potential for a stereo showdown.

Experienced performer Phon Sopheap invites the intrusion of public energy into his usually pristine dance space. “I never performed on a street like this before,” he said with excitement.

To prepare his personal choreography, Phon Sopheap has embraced the environment. “I ride slowly on my moto and watch the people. I try to take the feeling from outside on the street and bring it in.”

Dancing on a bare surface poses a greater challenge for him.

Accustomed to barefoot leaps and monkey-like dives, he will temper his speed and energy on the unfamiliar pavement.

In contrast, street performance is home turf for the show’s hip-hop artists. More distinctive for them will be sharing the venue with so many different schools of performance, as the range of dancers performing in Cambodia increases in variety.

Arnaudet hopes that the intimacy of an outdoor venue will pull Phnom Penh’s public closer to the reality of Cambodia’s living dance scene: “It’s a chance to get close to the audience and say, ‘Look! We are more than just one or two dancers. We are many, and we all perform today’.”

La Rue au Wat Botum begins February 28 from 6:30 to 8:30pm at Wat Botum Park. The writer of this article will also participate.

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