‘Disorientation’ through dance – in a good way

Students from the Conservatoire de danse de Bagnolet and Children of Bassac rehearse De l’ombre àla lumière at Sisowath High School on Tuesday.
Students from the Conservatoire de danse de Bagnolet and Children of Bassac rehearse De l’ombre àla lumière at Sisowath High School on Tuesday. Heng Chivoan

‘Disorientation’ through dance – in a good way

Across the tiled floors of a small room in Phnom Penh’s Sisowath High School, a group of young dancers this week stomped, pranced and swayed through a choreography set to both heavy percussion and a gentle melody from Vivaldi.

The unlikely pairing of the music in the piece – which is the finale of a six-part show premiering at the French Institute on Friday night – mirrors that of the dancers themselves. The group is a collaboration of 10 students from France’s Conservatoire de danse de Bagnolet and six from Cambodia’s Children of Bassac, all aged 12 to 17. Together their show will feature a mix of Western classical and contemporary ballet, as well as Cambodian folk and classical dance.

“Dance is a pretext to open the children to a culture that is not their own,” says Claire Baulieu, the conservatory’s director.

They’ve been rehearsing together since February 18, but the actual preparation goes back over a year, when Baulieu connected with Cambodian ballet master Voan Savay and began teaching her students Khmer classical and folkloric dance through France’s Association of Khmer Classical Ballet.

“Compared to French classical dance, [Khmer dance] is equally rigorous . . . both are extremely physical,” Baulieu says, noting that while Khmer dancing may not have big jumps, and requires dancers to keep a more “closed” posture, the movements are extremely refined and require immense concentration.

Baulieu has put together similar dance exchange programs, starting in 2012 through her project Dépaysages choréographiques – roughly meaning “choreographic disorientations”. Previous incarnations have been with the United States and Sweden. With Cambodia, they’ve gone further afield, both culturally and geographically.

“It doesn’t matter that the children cannot speak to each other . . . it shows that dance is a universal language,” Baulieu says, noting that the exchange will also take the dancers from Children of Bassac to France next month to repeat the performance.

In addition to dances from the conservatory’s classical repertoire, the show will feature folk dances from Stung Treng and Svay Rieng, the classical Tep Monorom dance (depicting the courtship of gods and goddesses), and as a finale an original choreography by Edith Bellomo, a professor at the conservatory.

Titled De L’ombre a la lumière – “From shadow to light” – Bellomo says the piece is divided into three distinct acts themed around war, followed by “questioning” and rebirth, and finally reconciliation and friendship.

The choreography is particularly relevant, she says, as 2018 is the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War – not to mention Cambodia’s own recent history of war.

“The ending is meant to represent the joy of exchange and friendship, and in this case, the Franco-Cambodian friendship,” she says.

Dépaysages Choréographiques premieres at 7pm on Friday in the garden of the French Institute, #218 Street 184. Free entry.

MOST VIEWED

  • US to ramp up sanctions after ‘flawed’ national polls

    At a press conference on Wednesday, the US State Department announced that it would expand visa sanctions on the Cambodian officials and individuals it deems responsible for “undermining democracy” in Cambodia. At the briefing, spokesperson Heather Nauert reiterated that the department regarded the July 29 elections

  • US names new ambassador to Cambodia

    US President Donald Trump on Friday appointed W Patrick Murphy as the new US Ambassador to Cambodia, replacing incumbent William A Heidt. A press release posted on the White House’s website said nominee W Patrick Murphy is currently acting principal deputy assistant secretary at

  • Final poll results confirm first single-party Assembly

    IN an unprecedented situation in Cambodian politics, the official results of the July 29 national elections have declared that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) will take all 125 seats in the National Assembly on the back of it receiving 76 per cent of the votes. The National

  • Kingdom is at a crossroads between East, West after poll

    It was dubbed a success by caretaker prime minister Hun Sen after the electoral victory of his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which is poised to take all seats in the National Assembly. But the July 29 national election has not been positively looked at by