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Khmer boxing inspires contemporary dance show

Dancer Nget Rady rehearses ahead of the premiere performance of Brodal Serei tomorrow night.
Dancer Nget Rady rehearses ahead of the premiere performance of Brodal Serei tomorrow night. Lin Chih-Yu

Khmer boxing inspires contemporary dance show

Brodal Serei, a contemporary dance piece based on the style of Khmer boxing of the same name, premieres tomorrow evening at Phnom Penh’s Department of Performing Arts.

The work – still in progress – is the result of a nearly two-year-long collaboration between French-Cambodian choreographer Emmanuèle Phuon, Malaysian dramaturge Lim How Ngean and Amrita Performing Arts.

Phuon was initially inspired by an exhibition in Brussels almost 10 years ago of photos of traditional Khmer boxing by photographer John Vink (appropriately, Vink has been documenting some of Brodal Serei’s rehearsals).

She said she wanted to explore an aspect of Khmer culture through contemporary dance, and one with a narrative thread. Boxing as a “popular” sport appealed to her.

“It’s a very physical sport, and culturally, it’s also very Cambodian,” Phuon explained.

The piece features three Amrita dancers, Khon Chansithyka, Nget Rady and Noun Sovitou, and two musicians, Keo Dorivan and Khon Chansina. Phon Sopheap, a senior artist, works with Phuon as rehearsal director.

To prepare for the performance the dancers learned real boxing techniques, working with a boxing trainer at the Olympic Stadium.

Dancer Chansithyka said learning to box was difficult.

“We need to run and fight to get stronger and more powerful,” he said. “While boxing is not my profession, I like it.”

A significant part of the research, Phuon said, was “getting to know the people we were training with”, and the experiences of the trainer, professional boxer Hem Saran, became an integral part of the work, which features a series of narrative scenes.

Phuon said the choreography was based on the “physical language of boxing”.

“I’m stylising it a little bit, but I’m not mixing it with anything,” she said.

However, the choreographer said the performance was “very different from real boxing”.

“They’re able to convey this idea of maleness and physical strength while maintaining the qualities of dancers. They have to remember the movements.”

Only local performances of Brodal Serei are planned at this point – with funding from private donors and a grant from the Asian Cultural Council.

However, Amrita has already seen interest from international theatres.

Brodal Serei will run tomorrow and Saturday at 7pm at the Department of Performing Arts, Street 173 (behind the Spark and Tawandang Microbrewery). Tickets $5 or $2.50 for students.

For more information telephone: 077 945 015.

A previous version of this article misstated the names of photographer John Vink and dancer Noun Sovitou.

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