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Traditional form gives shape to journey through society

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Chapei-playing legend Kong Nai performs traditional music on the two-stringed instrument alongside two actors in the performance piece Panchapor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Using elements from classical dance and narrative – plus chapei music and contemporary hip-hop – Panchapor symbolises the importance of tradition

Cambodian culture is so rich, but Sometimes youths don't know all its aspects.

AS the curtains draw open and the lights come up, the sound of an argument breaks out on the stage. But the audience sits quietly attentive to the scene playing out before them.

Two grandsons, Chok and Chem, are fighting over money - until their grandfather intervenes.

It is the opening scene of Panchapor, a tale exploring issues of modernity confronting Cambodia, its rich traditional heritage and its identity.

Panchapor means five colours in Khmer, or spectrum - but the young director says it also represents bringing different colours, knowledge and backgrounds of people together.

With her soybean Cambodian complexion, Panchapor director Chey Chankethya is a young classical art teacher at the Royal University of Fine Art.

Smiling after the show, she said she was happy that the scenes had made people in the hall laugh and applaud.

Reflecting further, she said she had integrated the diverse art forms with the idea of providing a space where young people and families could collaborate in Cambodia's rich artistic heritage.

The concert featured Cambodian classical dance and narrative, yike, folk dance and music, martial arts, circus, modern hip-hop dance and the chapei - a long-necked two-stringed guitar. It was performed the weekend before last at the Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Centre at the Institute of Foreign Languages at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Chey Chankethya said she began writing the script and working to develop its characters in late February.

But it was not until she found a helpful partner with Sealnet (the Southeast Asian Service Leadership Network) that she had the chance to tell her story through the concert.

She said Sealnet was seeking a young leader to direct an art performance for Cambodian youths. "Their purpose is the same as for us, to show arts to young people, so we cooperated together," she said.

While hip-hop is not a traditional dance, Chey Chankethya says she accepts it is a universal art. Sealnet project leader, 22-year-old Zoe Ng, also noted that Cambodian hip-hop culture was not central to the show's message.

"Cambodian culture is so rich, but sometimes youths don't know all its aspects," Ng said.

She said she hoped they would benefit from the performance of classical, pop and contemporary art.
In the tale, Cambodian youths were represented as argumentative and less than studious and having low self-discipline.

But it dealt with these problems with a clear educational message. Several institutions were involved in the performance pieces, including the Royal University of Fine Arts (classical and circus), Tiny Toones (breakdancing), Trey Visay (contemporary art), Cambodian Living Arts (classical folk) and Kong Nai (chapei). Before the performance, Sealnet ran a workshop at Bak Touk High School, bringing college students from the England, Malaysia, the Philippines, US and Vietnam to train 20 Cambodian students in leadership skills.

"Students can integrate what they have learned from the workshop to host the exhibition and presentation," Ng said.
This year the shows received up to a thousand people for both days.

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