D ance teacher Voan Savay realized a dream last week when her classical troupe of
former refugees inaugurated their own theater by performing before Foreign
Minister Sirivudh and his wife Princess Christine.
The British Ambassador
and his wife David and Inger Burns and leading British businessmen also attended
the performance at the troupe's village outside the capital.
by Mrs Burns, the British business community helped pay for the theater and
Savay has seen the 67-strong group come a long way since she
first began teaching them in little more than rags when they were at Site 2 on
the Thai border.
Savay, a former royal dancer in her fifties said: "I
have danced since the age of 8. I wanted to carry on the tradition. In the camps
I was teaching about 200 people at one time."
During repatriation last
year the group appealed to Prince Norodom Sirivudh to keep them together and he
helped them move to Samrong Thmey, 21 km from the city.
In 1993 Prince
Sirivudh appealed to the British ambassador for support. Mrs Burns began making
appeals in October for donations from British companies such as Enterprise Oil,
Shell, Continental Indochine. "I badgered them like crazy," she
"We were so moved the first time we went to the village. They
had nothing. Now they are transformed," she said.
She helped choose
material for their gorgeous costumes, which will cost $20,000 when
"They wore rags the first time we saw them dance," said Barry
Rogers of Enterprise Oil.
The British Embassy provided about $20,000
from the Ambassador's Fund. It includes scholarships of $20 a month each, to
cover food and board, for two years to attend the School of Fine Arts. Lessons
began in October.
Savay teaches the troupe every day, while her husband
Moeus Vanroen teaches them at the School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. The company
hopes to be incorporated into the National Dance Company.
Sirivudh said: "In helping them, we have given them the wings. Now it is up to
them to fly."
The group hopes tourist groups will attend performances
making them financially self-sufficient.
The troupe became so
accomplished in the border camp that they were invited to dance at the Oriental
Hotel in Bangkok for the Queen of Thailand in 1989.