Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dancing with pride

The Bassac slum, home to the CLA practice class on the 4th floor
The class practice a new dance about planting rice
Yesterday morning I visited the Bassac slum area of Phnom Penh to get a better insight into the work of Cambodian Living Arts. I was very lucky to be given a personal guided tour with none other than Arn Chorn-Pond, the founder of CLA and the subject of the acclaimed documentary The Flute Player. As I found out, Arn was as passionate about the arts - and everything else - as the teenagers I watched during their practice. Their spirit, sense of fun and commitment to working hard was so evident in the hour or so that I spent with them. They clearly loved performing, even in this practice session inside a tiny rented room on the fourth floor of the tenement building. This was the CLA practice studio in the building where many of the kids live, surrounded by the dangers and perils that accompany life in a slum. But CLA has given them an opportunity and an alternative to the drugs, crime and prostitution that for 25 of them will include a trip to Europe later this year. The ages of this troupe, mentored by Ieng Sithul, one of Cambodia's best-known artists, range between eight and nineteen and total no less than 52 youngsters, out of approximately 300 that CLA support. They also support 16 master musicians including Kong Nai, the blind chapei master, who was such a hit at last year's WOMAD festival in England. After watching the practice session, I visited his home in Dey Krahom, the area under constant threat of forced eviction, though the master was in Kampot with his family. Opposite his house, we visited the home of his best protege, Ouch Savy, who was also out performing at a wedding, and chatted to her mother, a respected performer herself. CLA has given so many the opportunity to practice and revive the arts and encouraged them to take their art into the public arena, whether it be at a wedding, hotel performances or prestigious events such as WOMAD. I can't speak highly enough of the work being done by CLA and the performers in bringing back traditional performance art and inspiring new contemporary performances, as I witnessed myself with the youngsters in their cramped practice room. Link: CLA.
This 2nd new dance is all about the traditional Khmer scarf, the krama
End of the performance, serious faces = serious commitment
Arn (left) and teacher Nop Thida, talk to the class about their art

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