Thursday, April 12, 2007

Survival through music..and dance

Thanks to Loung Ung's blog on her own website, she reminds me of a book that I have yet to read, namely Bree Lafreniere's acclaimed account of the life of Daran Kravanh in Cambodia's killing fields, in the book, Music Through The Dark : A Tale of Survival in Cambodia. Its not a new book, it was published in 2000, but somehow it slipped through my clutches and I must get hold of a copy. You can find out more about it at this website.

Daran Kravanh was born in Cambodia in 1954 into a family of musicians. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge, his parents and siblings were killed. Kravanh himself narrowly escaped execution when he found an accordion, an instrument he learned to play as a child, and was ordered to play by Khmer Rouge soldiers. He left Cambodia for Thailand in 1984, lived in refugee camps for four years and eventually arrived in the US in 1988. Kravanh received his BA from Evergreen State College in 1996, has served as a human rights commissioner and works as a social worker in the state of Washington. He volunteers extensively in the community and is the president of the Cambodian American SupportNetwork. Meanwhile, Bree Lafreniere served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Solomon Islands. Upon her return to the United States, she began working with refugees, and in 1992 met Kravanh through the Refugee Assistance Program of Tacoma, Washington. His accounts of life in Cambodia, genocide and surviving the killing fields were so powerful she felt compelled to tell his story in the book. Lafreniere also works as a social service administrator.

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Staying on the subject of arts, a 60-minute film, Seasons of Migration, directed by John Bishop and produced last year, is an exploration of the transformation of identity among Cambodian immigrants of Long Beach, California, which has a larger Cambodian population of any city outside of Phnom Penh. These newcomers exist somewhere between two cultures but have largely absorbed the American way of life; nevertheless, they do not wish to ignore their Cambodian heritage so rooted in classical eastern mythology. Choreographer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro uses current realities to create a new mythology in the classically oriented dance performances. The documentary is available to buy through the Khmer Arts Academy website.

Sophiline Cheam Shapiro (pictured right) was only eight years old when the Khmer Rouge invaded Phnom Penh and took control of her country but she survived the devastation to become one of the first generation of young artists to graduate from Royal University of Fine Arts after the regime’s collapse. She subsequently taught at RUFA and joined with colleagues and other Cambodian artists in a movement to revive the rich cultural traditions that had been all but obliterated by the Khmer Rouge. Although Ms Shapiro emigrated to the USA in 1991, she returns to Cambodia frequently to teach and conduct dance projects. She currently resides in Long Beach, California, where she is the co-founder and artistic director of the Khmer Arts Academy, a performing arts organization dedicated to fostering the vitality of Cambodian arts and culture.

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