Cambodia: more than temples and Toul Sleng
on Phnom Penh Pal (Cambodia), 13/May/2014 05:41, 34 days ago
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In USA, there are some cities that are now forever defined by shootings at a high school. For many people, Cambodia is defined by its own tragedy of the Khmer Rouge. And that tragedy, like car crashes, draws people to see what happened. But imagine yourself to be from Columbine or to be in a car crash. Would you want the world to come and watch you?The Missing Picturewas recently nominated for an Oscar (best foreign language film), dealing with the director’s experience of the Khmer Rouge. It is a superb film but I felt uneasy asking my colleagues if they have seen it or heard about it because of its’ subject matter. I can understand why some Cambodians may just not want to talk about it.There is a beer here that promotes being proud and drinking their beer and after years of war, it is understandable to find something that pride can be focussed upon. In Cambodia, pride is focussed on temples from the Angkor Empire when Angkor (ancient Cambodia) covered an area much larger than present day Cambodia. However, I think that sometimes the pride is not just for the temples but also for the Angkor Empire itself, the power it had and the area it covered.Pride in the past can lead to a desire for a return to the past, which is not always possible. Indeed, it may not always be desirable as it can stoke past rivalry or enmity. It is important to find new things to be proud of.Claire works forAmrita Performing Arts, which encourages classically trained dancers to explore the creation of a Cambodian form of contemporary dance. Last week, they performed pieces choreographed by their own dancers to a hall packed with Cambodians and foreigners.Traditional dance involves creating shapes such as these hands and feet. It is unbelievable how far they can bend fingers and hands. The shapes can be quite beautiful. This is an Amrita dancer in rehearsal.A piece by two brothers explored their relationship growing up so close but realising that they might not stay so close forever. The final piece,Religion, mixed hip hop, contemporary and classical dance, and dancers, in a message (as I took it) that truth can appear in many guises and that each dancer (or person) finds a dance that is true for them. Each form can be celebrated.Spontaneous applause, laughter and wonder erupted during the dances as the dancers showed grace, skill, emotion, athleticism, humour and understanding. Cambodia can remain proud of its traditional Apsara dancing but dance can evolve to become something new, created by contemporary Cambodians. You can seevideos of their performancesonline. The athleticism shown by the dancers appears to be present in many Cambodians, which has always impressed me. It is hard not to be impressed watching small people leap skywards before powerfully spiking a volleyball down over the net. Similarly, I am in wonder when I see three people balanced on a bicycle cycling along a busy road– and even turning corners!Athleticism and balance are to the fore inPhare PonleuSelpak, a Cambodian acrobatic circus. I have seen them many times now and each time there are moments when I laugh out loud in disbelief at what I am seeing. After one show during which males had performed gymnastic type acrobatics that I had thought possible only by Olympic gold medallists, I was gobsmacked to learn that they were aged 14 or 15. Check out these films for extremefire skippingandmesmerising juggling. Be it young dancers or acrobats, Cambodians do not just have to find pride in the past, they can also find it in the present.Gordon