An innovative new dance show opened last night, combining Apsara moves with contemporary music and a new modern style.
Unwrap!, by the Bambu Stretch Project, will play for three nights at Hotel 1961, featuring three classically-trained young performers from the Siem Reap School of Fine Arts, and music ranging from De La Soul to Portishead, to Antony and the Johnsons.
Dutch choreographer and artistic director Bob Ruijzendaal says the concept is, “The unwrapping of a new generation of conscious young dancers who are women.”
Referring to the project’s first show in November, he says, “This is very different. The last one was more of a showcase. This is more of a whole work. It’s really an abstract story about the awakening of young Apsara dancers changing into very conscious women. Still being Apsara dancers, just in a different way.
“We have contemporary urban music, Chinese, some Indian. All the moves, even in the more hectic pieces, are based on a Cambodian vocabulary. I’m not interested in contemporary dance and forgetting about heritage. I believe that contemporary dance in any culture should come from your own culture. You take things but you base it on your own movement, and that’s what we do.”
During rehearsal, the three dancers – Srey Nuch, Seng Va and Srey Nith – segue seamlessly from one piece to the next, ending up doing big hip hop-style moves to De La Soul’s, Ring Ring Ring. It contrasts oddly with the Apsara movements, but it works.
Ruijzendaal says the choreography is something of a collaborative endeavor. The dancers – two aged sixteen, one nineteen – choose their own music for their solo performances, from a selection he plays them.
“They contribute a lot,” says Ruijzendaal. “The hip hop part is their moves. Especially Seng Va, she loves hip hop, she really blossoms in it.”
Srey Nuch, sixteen, has always wanted to dance. “I like to dance, especially modern dance,” she says. “When I first saw dancers I thought I want to do that when I grow up. I just need to dance.”
The storyline of the 38-minute show is a group of dancers embarking on a journey of sorts.
“They start literally sleeping on a very small bed, all three of them as women do here,” says Ruijzendaal, “And then they are sort of lost Apsara dancers who slowly get into a new reality. In the end you will see and feel that a lot has happened to them and they have changed.”
The girls have come on in more ways than one since their November debut. Unlike contemporary dancers, Ruijzendaal says, Apsara dancers are not used to being physically fit.
The troupe has been working on getting into shape to cope with the demands this kind of performance places on them “It’s already working,” he says, “Because in the beginning they would grow tired very quickly and now they can continue much longer. They’re getting there.”
Unwrap! is on at Hotel 1961 from March 7-9. Tickets are $5 for expats, $1 for Khmer.