Anticipating that your New Year resolutions almost definitely include some half-formed notion of putting your free time to better use, Phnom Penh’s arts doyennes have given Post Weekend a sneak peek at what they’ve got planned for 2016. Grab your calendar, and make a note of the following highlights
One for fans of Cambodia’s contemporary music scene: the Friendship Festival to be held in Siem Reap from February 15-20 will round up dozens of popular local performers including Laura Mam, the Kampot Playboys and Miss Sarawan. For those with loftier tastes, one key event of 2016’s cultural calendar will be Robert Turnbull’s reimagining of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which will be presented as a work in progress in November 2016 ahead of its premiering in 2018. The ambitious opera, produced by arts journalist Turnbull with the help of two Italian directors, will fuse Mozart’s original score with traditional Southeast Asian instrumentation. Dancers from Amrita Performing Arts will provide the visual focus. And at the opposite end of the operatic spectrum, Cambodia-philes down under should be sure to catch the Cambodian Space Project’s extravagant “rock opera” when it premieres at the Sydney Festival on January 23.
SaSa Bassac retains its crown as the most proactive art space in Phnom Penh, hosting Vandy Rattana’s Landscape of Time in January, group exhibitions from February through May, a project with archivist and artist Koh Nguang How in July and a solo exhibition by Lim Sokchanlina in September. Curator Erin Gleeson particularly recommends art lovers to look out for Futuographies in February: a collaborative exhibition between Parsons the New School of Design in New York City and three Cambodian artists. The project will address “the ways in which people imagine and generate futures in contexts most often represented as ones of crisis, disaster and victimhood”. Since the closure of Romeet Gallery in 2015, Battambang’s prestigious Phare Ponleu Selpak remains homeless in Phnom Penh. There’s no hint yet of a proposed alternative, but the art school will still be organizing exhibitions featuring the work of its students and graduates in Phnom Penh including a July showcase of graphic design, visual arts and animation. The venue has yet to be decided.
Phnom Penh continues to expand as a regional hub for high-profile arts networking, with Cambodia Living Arts hosting two conferences in the first part of 2016. The first – Vitality & Viability: Arts Ecosystems in Asia (January 14-16) – focusses on the study of arts management and cultural policy in the Asia Pacific region. The second – Living Arts in Post-Conflict Context (March 10-12) – looks to develop a new model of partnership among countries from the global South. Registration is required for both. The Bophana Centre will also continue hosting regular culture-related gatherings, the first being the Cartography of Memory symposium (January 12-13), which is open to all comers.
Cambodia’s indie film renaissance looks set to continue into 2016 with the release of Davy Chou’s second feature film, working title Diamond Island. Chou, best known for his 2011 film Golden Slumbers, says the new film is intended to address the situation in Cambodia during “this special moment of transition”. Filmmaker Steve Chen, who works with Chou as part of their film production house Anti-Archive, also recommends cinema lovers be on the lookout for new drama Turn Right, Turn Left. Director Douglas Seok was inspired to shoot a film in the Kingdom while working as director of photography on Chen’s recently released Dreamland. And for a new-look venue, be sure to check out the new incarnation of Empire Cinema (#34 Street 130), which was recently taken over by Kevin Woolmer. As well as a redesign, Woolmer’s big plan for 2016 is day-long events of films and music around particular themes. A British expat, Woolmer is planning to make the first event all about The Beatles.
Two significant performances from the Sophiline Art Ensemble are in the works for the coming year. The first is a joint concert with the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company from Washington, DC – a troupe best known for making works focussing on mixed cultural and ethnic heritage – which will take place at Chaktomuk Hall on March 18. The second is the Cambodian premiere of Spiral XII (July 8-10), a work composed by Cambodian-American Chinary Ung and choreographed by Sophiline Shapiro. The ambitious undertaking will see 22 singers and musicians flown in from California accompanied by Los Angeles-based conductor Grant Gershon. Elsewhere, Amrita’s contemporary dancers will be hosting their semi-annual choreography platforms in spring and autumn.
Two festivals for your New Year calendar. The first, the Tini Tinou International Circus Festival, which will bring together artists from as far afield as Canada and Afghanistan for a celebration of cutting-edge circus artistry. Expect parades, street performances and nightly shows in Phnom Penh’s Chenla Theatre (April 28-May 1), Phare Ponleu Selpak’s Big Top in Battambang (May 3-6) and at Phare, the Cambodian Circus in Siem Reap (May 8-11). Incidentally, the Battambang Big Top is due for a relocation, a launch event for which will take place on January 23. Then in October (20-24), head south for the second Kampot Writers and Readers Festival. Last year’s maiden edition, which featured guests including An Chorn-Pon and Paul Kelly, was deemed a resounding success. And finally, while we’re a long way off an opening date, you can expect 2016 to be the year of the “art boat”, as organisers push to crowdfund the $40,000 necessary to transform a huge abandoned boat on the Mekong into the city’s leading arts hub.