Sophiline Cheam-Shapiro has played many roles: dancer, award-winning choreographer, tireless coach and long-time artistic director of Sophiline Arts Ensemble.
But in advance of the company’s showcase tonight, Tompeang Snong Russey, she sees herself first and foremost as a mentor.
“In Khmer, tompeang snong russey refers to the ‘bamboo shoots’ – the young bamboo,” Sophiline explained this week. “It will take time to prepare the young bamboo to carry the legacy.”
The dance platform will feature five new dances and one song by 12 younger artists, each with their own contemporary variation on classical performance.
Some of this personal experimentation involves modifications on traditional form.
“In Cambodian dance, the torso is very erect. Toes are turned up and fingers turned back,” Sophiline said. But here, there are “certain movements that you don’t usually expect to see in classical dance”.
For Sot Sovanndy, 27, who was classically trained at the Royal University of Fine Arts and has worked with Sophiline Arts Ensemble for nine years, drawing a sharp line between the traditional and contemporary seems futile.
“I like to focus more on classical dance, and I like to make it modern,” Sovanndy said.
She worked on Theath Daum (or “essence”), which takes a dance based on ancient mythology and adds new and unusual patterns of choreography.
“They look for other ways to move, to express the characters,” whether by adding kicks or movement to the often-rigid torso, Sophiline said. “They look for the best way to tell the story.”
Other artists focus on a shift in ideas or subject matter.
Prumsodun Ok has choreographed a duet about a same-sex relationship, which, like much of his work, creates more space for male dancers in Khmer classical dance.
Another – particularly timely – piece by Chao Socheata takes traffic in Phnom Penh as a starting point, examining the conflict between rule followers and rule breakers.
“You can see that the dancers and choreographers are exploring,” Sophiline said. “Their minds are apparent in their works.”
Tompeang Snong Russey takes place tonight at 7pm at the Khmer Arts Theatre in Takhmao, Kandal province.Tickets are $2.50. For more information, contact [email protected].