SOPHILINE Cheam Shapiro, an accomplished Cambodian choreographer, dancer, educator and vocalist, has been named a 2009 National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a US-funded award.
According to a press release distributed Friday by Khmer Arts, the award is aimed to recognise "artistic excellence and support the continuing contributions to traditional arts heritage in the USA".
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro joins the prestigious ranks of blues musicians BB King, cowboy poet Wally McRae and soul singer Mavis Staples.
The NEA website states that a common theme among its fellows is their commitment to youth training and education.
As part of the lifetime achievement award, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro will receive a one-off payment of US$25,000. She plans to invest the money into her current projects.
A Phnom Penh native, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro is a graduate of the Royal University of Phnom Penh and was among the first generation educated at the school after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
She is the co-founder and the artistic director of Khmer Arts, an organisation split between Long Beach, California, and Takhmao province. The
organisation is devoted to developing arts and culture in the Kingdom.
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro emigrated to the United States in 1991, where she worked extensively with Cambodian refugees in Long Beach, offering training in classical music and dance.
It was for this work that she received special attention in the United States, but also became widely known as the only US-based Cambodian to tour her productions internationally.
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro is now in the process of putting together a new production called Life of Giants, a contemporary take on an episode from the Ramayana, which she hopes to take on tour next year.
Speaking to the Post on Sunday, Sophiline said she felt "honoured" to receive the award and that she feels optimistic about the future of arts and culture in Cambodia.
"The productions that have come of the collaboration between Belle [Chumvan Sodhachivy, an up-and-coming contemporary Cambodian dancer] and the French Cultural Centre, the dedication of teachers at the Fine Arts University of Phnom Penh - these are really encouraging signs," she said.
"Now, we just have to work out how to move forward and depict contemporary life in a meaningful way, while also recognising the past contribution and thinking of what is ahead of us."
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro is to travel to Washington, DC, in September with fellow attendees to participate in an award ceremony on Capitol Hill, as well as a concert at the music hall in Bethesda, Maryland, where Khmer Arts will perform selections from Sophiline Cheam Shapiro's Seasons of Migration.