From Program Notes:
In June of 2003 Daravuth Ly saw our outdoor performance of Offering in New York. He then wanted to talk to us about his own experience as a Cambodian artist and his vision as a director of Reyum. He invited us to Cambodia to work with his students as artists-in-residence. Thanks to the encouragement and help we got from Ralph Samuelson of the Asian Cultural Council, we spent the whole month of January 2004 in Phnom Penh. Daravuth brought us to Angkor Wat and, being an art historian, gave us his passionate insight into Khmer culture. We performed at the Reyum Art School and the village Daravuth lives. When we taught our Delicious Movement workshop, we were profoundly surprised how receptively and beautifully these young art students moved in their first dance class. Our workshop does not require any previous dance training, but is designed to foster kinetic sensitivity in each participant. Being painters, the Reyum students seemed to be perceptive about movement and enjoyed being in their bodies. Trained in traditional painting, they are patient and connected to their culture. Though we could hardly communicate in English, we cooked, danced and sang together. In many ways the Reyum students reminded us of ourselves growing up in post-war Japan.
On the day of our return to New York, Koma turned to me as soon as the plane took off and said, "I miss the Reyum kids already. I want to come back. Can we make a piece with them?" As we usually dance alone and rarely choreograph for others, it was a radical idea. I readily agreed. This is how Cambodian Stories was conceived.
After much correspondence, Koma returned to Cambodia in January of 2005 to work with the students who had volunteered for the project. They formed the Reyum Painting Collective. The students had all seen our performance the year before and were willing to experiment. It was during this visit that Ingrid Muan died unexpectedly. The shock and deep grief the Reyum community experienced affected us all.
We returned in July 2005 to choreograph and train these painters-turned-performers. Believing that the best way to learn about performing is by performing, we organized numerous showings in the Reyum school yard. These work-in-progress events were first attended by other Reyum students and teachers. But soon we invited friends, family members and neighbors. The audience grew, and eventually traditional court dancers and teachers joined and even cultural ministers. A national broadcast of one of the showings on Cambodian television, accompanied by interviews, gave everyone a thrill. Excited by their own growing mastery, these novice performers quickly developed not only their skills but also their appetite for dancing. They loved performing and sometimes they danced for a single guest with the same eagerness they brought to performing for a large group. They learned how to ask for and listen to feedbacks and the audience learned how to respond openly. Koma and I saw the beauty of their working together and the confidence they gained in thinking of themselves as artists.
Since then Koma returned to Cambodia twice, not only to continue developing Cambodian Stories but also to inaugurate the Reyum Graduate Art Workshop, where Reyum graduates can live together and produce art collectively. These young artists are full of dreams. They have received loving instruction from their teachers free of charge for four years. They are now eager to grow further and help their school and its younger students.
Read more about Cambodian Stories.