A udiences were enthralled by the Jeune Ballet de France at the Chatomuk Theatre
April 14-16. Invited by the French Centre Culturel et de Cooperation
Linguistique, the company joined forces with dancers from the Royal University
of Fine Arts to produce several pieces which wittily and thoughtfully juxtaposed
western and Khmer dance.
The pivotal piece was Duel, a special creation
for the occasion by Prince Norodom Sihamoni, a choreographer and dancer. His
father, King Sihanouk, attending the gala premiere, was so enthusiastic that he
bought 200 seats for the two following evenings and gave them away. The
theatre's 600 seats overflowed into the aisles with spectators who cried out for
Duel opened with an exquisite Khmer dancer, Sam Sadhia,
performing ritualised movements by candlelight. She pauses to witness a combat
between two men, symbols of a prehistoric social and religious duality of her
civilisation. Boyd Lau and David Rodrigo Balsalobre, clothed only in a Khmer
sampot ching kben, performed a dramatic symbiosis of western and Khmer
Prince Sihamoni was requested by JBF's president, Robert Berthier,
to choreograph a dance for their visit. He created Duel in his head, inspired by
the recurrent theme of his work, the tension between two cultures.
resonates with the tension of duality, as east meets west. "All my ballets
reflect these themes," he said. "I am a child of two cultures, I can never
dissociate myself from that. So it is always the theme of my work."
There was only two weeks to prepare the programme. "We had only five
days of rehearsals for Duel," lamented Sihamoni. "It still needed more
The program included eight other dances each evening which changed
nightly, providing a panorama of classical and contemporary dance from
Bournonville to Balanchine to Garnier.
Notable among the 14 gifted
dancers, aged between 16-20, was Cuban Joan Boada, 20. He performed a
spectacular contemporary solo, created for him by the French choreographer Redha
in 1994, which won the Bronze Medal in the Varna Dance Competition, one of the
world's most important.
Boada combined leaps of dazzling agility with a
series of rapid, writhing movements across the floor. Every move expressed
profound feeling, heightened by a rendition of the prayer Kyrie Eleison ('Lord,
have mercy') by I Muvrini, which transformed into a jungle rhythm by Dead Can
Feux Interdits, a pensive, modern piece expressed a relationship
between a brother and sister, full of innovative steps and understated costumes.
Dancing in silence, then to Wagner, Cyrille Jegou and Charlotte Seguin revealed
youthful sentiments and the passage into adulthood with their subtle
Brazilian Fernanda Tavares Diniz, 18, displayed her
elegance and graceful style in Le Corsaire, lithe technique in Diane et Acteon,
and sheer joy in the Finale. The Finale, and the penultimate La Follia, featured
little Cambodian dancers who wove their way through the ensemble, doing
pastiches of their own movements. They also performed the Coconut Dance each
night - "because we loved it so much," declared Berthier.
ballet master Alain Fourgeaux enthused about working with Cambodians. The only
problem, they claimed, was teaching rhythm. "They had never heard Western music,
such as Vivaldi," said Fourgeaux. "They had no idea how to follow
Chinese-Canadian dancer Boyd Lau who, with the rest of the troupe,
helped to pace them, said: "I learned to count in Khmer."
movements from Cambodians was not easy, he said, especially moving constantly on
bended knees. "The men were better than women at that. But we can never turn our
hands back like them."
Khmer ballet, which dates from the 9th century,
consists of endlessly perfecting ancient movements, and is religious in origin.
Western dance, on the other hand, which originated, according to Berthier, in
France in the 16th century (although it emerged in Italy as a distinctive form
before then), is a performing art, constantly evolving and changing.
was formed by Berthier in 1983 to prepare young dancers for one year in touring
with a repertoire of 26 ballets.