Subscribe Search

Search form

‘Disorientation’ through dance – in a good way

Students from the Conservatoire de danse de Bagnolet and Children of Bassac rehearse De l’ombre àla lumière at Sisowath High School on Tuesday.
Students from the Conservatoire de danse de Bagnolet and Children of Bassac rehearse De l’ombre àla lumière at Sisowath High School on Tuesday. Heng Chivoan

‘Disorientation’ through dance – in a good way

Across the tiled floors of a small room in Phnom Penh’s Sisowath High School, a group of young dancers this week stomped, pranced and swayed through a choreography set to both heavy percussion and a gentle melody from Vivaldi.

The unlikely pairing of the music in the piece – which is the finale of a six-part show premiering at the French Institute on Friday night – mirrors that of the dancers themselves. The group is a collaboration of 10 students from France’s Conservatoire de danse de Bagnolet and six from Cambodia’s Children of Bassac, all aged 12 to 17. Together their show will feature a mix of Western classical and contemporary ballet, as well as Cambodian folk and classical dance.

“Dance is a pretext to open the children to a culture that is not their own,” says Claire Baulieu, the conservatory’s director.

They’ve been rehearsing together since February 18, but the actual preparation goes back over a year, when Baulieu connected with Cambodian ballet master Voan Savay and began teaching her students Khmer classical and folkloric dance through France’s Association of Khmer Classical Ballet.

“Compared to French classical dance, [Khmer dance] is equally rigorous . . . both are extremely physical,” Baulieu says, noting that while Khmer dancing may not have big jumps, and requires dancers to keep a more “closed” posture, the movements are extremely refined and require immense concentration.

Baulieu has put together similar dance exchange programs, starting in 2012 through her project Dépaysages choréographiques – roughly meaning “choreographic disorientations”. Previous incarnations have been with the United States and Sweden. With Cambodia, they’ve gone further afield, both culturally and geographically.

“It doesn’t matter that the children cannot speak to each other . . . it shows that dance is a universal language,” Baulieu says, noting that the exchange will also take the dancers from Children of Bassac to France next month to repeat the performance.

In addition to dances from the conservatory’s classical repertoire, the show will feature folk dances from Stung Treng and Svay Rieng, the classical Tep Monorom dance (depicting the courtship of gods and goddesses), and as a finale an original choreography by Edith Bellomo, a professor at the conservatory.

Titled De L’ombre a la lumière – “From shadow to light” – Bellomo says the piece is divided into three distinct acts themed around war, followed by “questioning” and rebirth, and finally reconciliation and friendship.

The choreography is particularly relevant, she says, as 2018 is the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War – not to mention Cambodia’s own recent history of war.

“The ending is meant to represent the joy of exchange and friendship, and in this case, the Franco-Cambodian friendship,” she says.

Dépaysages Choréographiques premieres at 7pm on Friday in the garden of the French Institute, #218 Street 184. Free entry.


  • Kak Channthy, Cambodian Space Project frontwoman, killed in crash at 38 [Updated]

    Updated 5:05pm, Tuesday, March 20, 2018 Kak Channthy, frontwoman of popular The Cambodian Space Project, was killed Tuesday morning in a traffic accident in Phnom Penh. She was 38. Channthy, the internationally recognised singer-songwriter also known as “Srey Thy”, was reportedly travelling in a tuk-tuk on the city's

  • Australian police investigating death threat against Kem Ley's widow

    Updated: 10:17am, Friday March 23, 2018 Australian authorities on Thursday confirmed they have launched an investigation into a crudely written death threat sent tothe family of slain political analyst Kem Ley and Victoria state MP Hong Lim. The typed letter, reported to Victoria police last week, is

  • Apparel groups including H&M and Gap urge Cambodia garment industry reform, seek meeting with Hun Sen

    A group representing some of the largest apparel brands in the US and Europe – including Gap, H&M and ASOS – expressed “growing concern” on Tuesday over several controversial labour laws and ongoing court cases against unionists described as restrictive and unjust. In an open letter

  • Hun Sen says Montagnards don’t exist in Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen once again attacked ex-opposition leader Sam Rainsy for pledging “autonomy” to Montagnards, claiming – seemingly incorrectly – the ethnic minority does not exist in Cambodia. “We respect all minorities such as Jarai, Steang, Phnong, but we have never had Montagnards,” the premier said