A funeral procession mourns the death of a young man who wasn’t wearing a helmet on his moto. Scenes show him, before the crash, playing drinking games with friends and scrambling for the attention of a pretty local girl in a plum-coloured dress.
Fortunately, these sombre scenes are fabricated for the audience through dance and theatre, though they will probably strike a chord with many Cambodians.
The performance of the troupe’s newest piece, titled MOTO MOTO, took place at the Epic Arts Centre, Kampot.
Instead of listening to the beat, the dancers keep time by feeling the vibrations through the floor, explains Laura Evans, the arts program adviser at the NGO, after the show.
After all, six of the members are deaf. Ranging between 20-28-years-old, all the performers have a disability of some kind. They have graduated from the Epic Arts-run Inclusive Arts Course – the first of its kind in Cambodia – and they are, according to Anthony Evans, program development manager at Epic Arts, one if not the only “fully inclusive dance company in the whole of Southeast Asia”.
The theme of MOTO MOTO is road safety. Before the performance the audience is informed that around four people die every day as a result of a motorcycle related accident.
The decision to focus on road safety was based on a nasty accident witnessed by the team in February.
“On their last tour, on the way back, they saw two deaths in one go. Two guys [on motos], no helmets, hit lorries when overtaking. Their heads were basically caved in,” Anthony says.
The piece is a joint collaboration between British choreographer Rebecca Devitt, 30, and the team. Together they workshop ideas and the result is a performance that includes local cultural references and some classic dance moves, such as using white shirts to symbolise the funeral procession.
Dou Sokun (or Kun), 28, is one of the dancers. He is in a wheelchair, and says that collaboration has, at times, been difficult.
“At the beginning it was very hard because I only knew a little bit of sign language. But from day-to-day, by asking people and learning from them it became a bit easier. The way that I communicate with the team is not a big problem now.”
The previous ensemble tour did not focus on social issues – its purpose was simply to encourage people all over the country to “see ability, not disability” and create awareness. So what led to the change in artistic direction?
“We believe that the meaning of inclusiveness is to completely forget about disability,” Anthony says. “Some people go ‘this piece isn’t about disability?’ What’s inclusive about it is that some of them [the people on the course] are deaf and some of them are not disabled, not that it’s about disability.”
Anthony hopes this will be the first of many such tours in Cambodia, and adds that other issues already suggested by communities and NGOs include topics as diverse as acid attacks, landmines and sexual health – “don’t know how we’d do that one!” he says, laughing.
Epic Arts still needs some $5,000 to tour the production but believes the country is in desperate need of a road safety awakening. “These guys are ready for it and it seems like the rest of Cambodia is ready for it as well,” Anthony says.
To donate to Epic Art’s MOTO MOTO project visit: indiegogo.com/projects/epic-arts-moto-moto.