Brodal Serei looks into the lives of Khmer boxers in Cambodia; Emmanuèle Phuon, a former dancer with Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, and collaborator with Amrita Performing Arts in Cambodia discusses the departure point for this creation – starting with an exhibition in Brussels by Magnum photographer John Vink on Khmer boxing. ‘a reportage that took him from training grounds to boxing rings.’
The photographs left Emmanuèle Phuon thinking about the beauty and grace of Khmer boxers, and even further – the trades and compassion of boxing that go further past the evident distress and brutality of the practice. ‘Working and performing with choreographer Yvonne Rainer, one of the founders and leaders of the Judson Church Theater only confirmed that feeling, since her biggest contribution to the dance world is that all movement is dance.’
On approaching, and investigating Khmer boxing practice and culture, Ms Phuon decided to send three dancers from her previous work Khmeropédies III into training. While observing the Cambodian Royal Armed Forces training at the Olympic Stadium, Ms Phuon met boxer Hem Saran who subsequently started coaching the dancers. ‘Khon Chan Sithyka, Noun Sovitou and Nget Rady, the three dancers in Brodal Serei, trained with real boxers for two months under his supervision, starting every morning at 6 AM with a jogging session around the stadium. ‘ Looking into learning the movements as well as immersing themselves in the boxing culture.
We have approached Emmanuèle Phuon with particular questions on the development of Cambodia’s contemporary dance industry, as well as her work with the celebrated choreographer Yvonne Rainer.
How do you see the Cambodia contemporary dance scene in today’s landscape?
Cambodia today has an opening contemporary dance scene with few players involved because it is still in its beginning stages. As such, it needs time: artists have to experience it, understand it before experimenting with new ideas. In my knowledge, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro is the only notable, original and accomplished voice dealing with modernity in the traditional language. She is the only one who has succeeded in creating a substantial body of work that has gained a reputation internationally.
We cherish the opportunity to understand your relationship with Yvonne Rainer’s informal company, the Raindeers. You are one of six authorised Trio A transmitters, from “The Mind is a Muscle”. Can you please expand a little on the process of working with Yvonne Rainer and her legacy?
Yvonne Rainer is the grande dame of post-modern dance, she is one of the original Judson Dance Theater founders, and to this day, the work they did still influence people such as Jerome Bel and Meg Stuart. Working with Rainer as a dancer is an immense honour, I learn so much from watching her work and from performing with her. Her methods and process are very inspiring, but I can’t apply them to myself, because when someone has reached such a level of fame and accomplishment, they have a kind of freedom that I will never have!
Passing on Trio A is always a great experience because of the expectations that people have prior to learning it: they are always surprised at the level of detailing and precision the solo requires. When people think about post-modern dance, they think about untrained bodies doing untrained dancing.