20110212 Chenla, Performing Arts Festival 2011
Saturday 12th FEB 2011 at Chaktomuk theatre.

To honor the Performing Arts Festival 2011 organized by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, we, Amrita Performing Arts, are honored to present an excerpt of a work in progress, a new contemporary work.

In a new ceremony, five young Cambodians of a pivotal generation embody and synthesize contradictory ways of being in a contemporary Cambodian society of opposing currents. Tradition/experimentation, preservation/evolution, nostalgia/future-focus, spirituality/materialism, and public exhibition/private introspection collide and merge briefly in this new work by Peter Chin, created in collaboration with the Cambodian artists.

A Note from the Choreographer
I am interested in the ways that these young artists are synthesizing traditional and forward-looking impulses, and ways of living, not only on stage and in the studio, but in everyday life.

I am also fascinated by the notion of "the sacred" potentially being accessible to all people by their artistic ideas and actions, no matter what a prevailing hierarchical structure might dictate. This is in no way a desire to criticize the teacher/student tradition with all it's rules and prerogatives, nor is it a critique of what the Ministry of Culture of the government of the Kingdom of Cambodia embodies currently. Rather, it is a proposal to honoring the many compelling paths to seeking and embodying what the core of our existence is through the sensibilities and insights of art-making. Therefore, I potentially see contemporary dance work as being on par with the old classics in terms of a valid path to understanding and illuminating our collective and individual existences, and therefore worthy of the same kind of respect and attention. That is why in this new piece, there is a sense of real ceremony and ritual that has been created very carefully with the dancers to have real meaning, even down to each gesture having a personal and specific meaning to the performers. Also, the state of mind, deportment  and focus that characterizes Robam Khmer is also seen in some of the contemporary movement material because of several reasons: a/ the dancers are living in both the Robam Khmer world and in the contemporary dancer world, and have been formed by both of these realms, and b/ some of the highest principles of existence is already codified in this way of moving, so in creating new work that has a soul-searching and/or "sacred" mandate, it is natural for these dancers to respectfully deploy this way of moving.

The sacred is certainly found in esoteric court ritual dance, but also can be detected and felt in day to day life, if we know how to look for it. That is why there is a constant vacillation between street/normal behavior and rarified/special behavior among the dancers in this new piece. I am proposing that the search for the sacred, or for an expanded vision of our existence, is not limited to UNESCO and Ministry of Culture approved dance culture, but also, through a careful process and appropriate attention, it can be approached through "contemporary dance".

The grandmother and the monkey emerge as important ideas in this piece. Memory, survival, nostalgia, maturity of vision, dignity and the ability to be between realms is embodied by the grandmother. The monkey is something that brings in the new, though sometimes in a mischievous way. In fact, in the development of contemporary dance in Cambodia, the classical monkey repertoire has been very instrumental in ushering in new ways of moving and physical representation, mainly because of the physicality of the repertoire, and the impunity of the monkey for being cheeky, impish, a rule-breaker and mischievous. In fact, this is partly what led to Elderly Masters surviving the war, and to later play an important role in the revival of classical dance in Cambodia. Also, the monkey is an important touchstone of Khmer culture and dance in particular being deeply connected to Nature. Nature as a model and inspiration for me as an artist is very important in this piece because Nature simultaneously embraces the old and new, sometimes erasing distinctions. That is why a dancer, in an invocation near the end, says: "Monkey oh Monkey, You come from the ancient Forest, What is the new thing, You share with us?"