Sponsors & Local Partnerships
The Take-aways: Challenges will come out of various and sundry sources – in this case, from the Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Embassy who asked us to mentor Cambodian dancers and produce new choreography in 4 days. Little did we know that this was one of the pivotal moments in the derivation of Dancing to Connect, a model arts education program that has since taken us to over 20 countries!
Social Issues: Cambodians have suffered the gravest of traumas during the Pol Pot-Khmer Rouge times. Artists and the intelligentsia were either killed or sent to the rice paddies to become menial laborers and farm hands. The young people with whom we worked are the children of parents who suffered through and survived this terrible period in recent history. On the one hand, they were aware of the history; but on the other hand, they wanted to move on. We felt it was important to understand this nuance and build trust based on respect and … fun!
Cultural Adaptation: Heat and humidity were a struggle and we felt somewhat guilty that Amrita spent what was, in its context, a bundle in order to rent the one and only a/c dance studio in the entire country for ‘the foreigners’. Fred Frumberg, the Director of Amrita, and his wonderful team understood that we would wilt after a few hours without a/c; and so they rented the beautiful studio that was built by a dance-lover in Phnom Penh who intended to open a Western-style dance school. However, as we understood it, after building it, the patron died and no one else had the funding to keep the space running. Amrita would have loved to make it their home but the upkeep was too expensive.
Bureaucracy: We didn’t suffer any consequences of bureaucracy because Jeff Daigle and the US Embassy navigated whatever local hoops needed to be jumped through before we arrived.
Quite ambitiously, PAO Jeff Daigle proposed that BDC create original dance works with local Cambodian dancers, to be incorporated into the Company’s performance at Chaktomuk Hall, increasing the chances that Cambodian King Sihamoni would attend. At first, there was trepidation on the Company’s part: How could a brief interaction between dancers from such disparate backgrounds result in a performance meriting a Royal Command performance?
However, in the short span of four days, the Cambodian dancers bonded with their American mentors and the unimaginable took place. Elements such as partnering and weight-sharing, common to American modern dance but totally alien to the Apsara traditions, were embraced and conquered by the young Cambodian dancers with their fearless attitude and appetite for unexplored territory. Amrita Performing Arts personnel, including the visionary Fred Frumberg and his superb local staff, assisted in the areas of translation, technical and programmatic facilitation, supporting Battery Dance Company at each juncture.
Jeff Daigle described the success of the program in a statement issued soon after BDC’s visit:
Battery Dance Company (BDC) brought modern dance to Cambodia for the first time during the group's October 16-22 stop in Phnom Penh while on an EAP/PD-sponsored tour of Asia. Battery Dance, based in Lower Manhattan, is one of America's leading contemporary dance troupes. During their stay, BDC conducted a four-day workshop with twenty two young Cambodian apsara dancers--apsara is the traditional Khmer dance form--to develop a piece entitled "Homage to Cambodia," which was presented during a gala performance on October 21. By all accounts the performance was a smashing success. Tickets for the event were completely sold out three days in advance, the first time this has ever happened for an Embassy cultural event. His Majesty King Sihamoni was the honored guest at the performance (also another first), and other notables in attendance included the Deputy Prime Minister and numerous Ministers. Although Cambodians rarely applaud at performances, the audience gave the dancers rousing cheers between each number, and His Majesty the King led the audience in a final standing ovation at the end of the night.*
He went on to comment on the media buzz generated by Battery’s performance, noting that “three television stations and numerous radio programs and newspapers covered the performance,” including a television broadcast of the performance on TVK, Cambodia’s national network, and three full pages in the English-language Cambodia Daily.
Feedback from U.S. Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, in a letter written to Jonathan Hollander, memorializes the performance vividly:
I would like to express my personal thanks to you and the entire cast and crew of Battery Dance Company for the superb performance the Company recently mounted in Phnom Penh. By all accounts the presentation was a tremendous success. Never before has one of our cultural events been sold out days in advance, with a waitlist of more than 100 to boot! Nor have we had a production meet with such acclaim, including praise from His Majesty King Sihamoni, who is himself a professionally trained dancer. The subsequent nationwide broadcast of the show as a prime-time television special was merely frosting on the cake. Of course I would be remiss if I did not also mention the “Homage to Cambodia” dance piece that Battery Dance Company created during its four-day workshops with local Apsara dancers. This work was as moving for the audience to watch as it was exciting for the Cambodian dancers to perform. I thank you and the entire Battery Dance Company ensemble for your dedication to fostering mutual understanding between Cambodians and Americans. Bravo!