In what is anticipated to be an annual collaboration, local NGO Amrita Performing Arts is teaming up with the Taiwan National University of the Arts to bring a night of contemporary dance to Phnom Penh.
Founded in 2003, Amrita initially set its sights on reviving Cambodia’s traditional performing arts. In recent years, the organisation has increasingly pursued the incorporation of contemporary dance and theatre into its performances.
Fred Frumberg, Amrita’s founder and current executive director, has a storied history in the performing arts both in this country and abroad. Prior to his arrival to Cambodia in 1997, Frumberg spent fifteen years working in opera houses and theatres across the United States and Europe, collaborating with stage directors as noteworthy as Peter Sellers and Deborah Warner, as well as serving as the Paris Opera’s head of production for three years.
During his first six years in Cambodia, Frumberg worked with UNESCO assisting in the staging of public exhibitions and international tours for traditional and contemporary performing artists.
For its latest project, Amrita has recruited Taiwanese-American choreographer Cynthia Lee, a graduate of UCLA who is currently based in Los Angeles.
Much of the choreographer’s work has been developed as a synthesis between postmodern American dance and the classical kathak dance of Uttar Pradesh in northern India.
Lee has been working in Phnom Penh since the middle of February to train six Cambodian dance artists affiliated with Amrita. Friday will be the public showing of the workshop’s creative fruits.
“Part of our current mission is to motivate more contemporary dance in Cambodia,” says Frumberg.
“We used to be involved entirely in classical work; now we spend a lot of time searching for contemporary choreographers around the world who are sensitive to our situation.
When it comes to contemporary dance, Cambodia is still trying to find its path, and we don’t want to force-feed people, telling them which way they should go.”
Frumberg says that the collaboration with the Taiwanese university was a natural fit for Cambodian performers, after that country’s past experience of traditional performing arts tentatively beginning to give way to contemporary modes of expression.
“Taiwan underwent a very similar process in previous decades and so they’ve been taking a lot of interest in our work. I’ve watched Cynthia’s work before in Malaysia and India, and I felt she’d be appropriate to work with.”
The dancers of Amrita Performing Arts will be performing from 6pm on Friday March 9 at the Department of Performing Arts, behind the Spark nightclub on Mao Tse Toung Blvd. Entry is free and tickets are available from the Amrita office on Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh, or at the door.