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Document(s): The Dancer and Cambodian History

Document(s): The Dancer and Cambodian History

“The Dancer and Cambodian History” is from the Document(s) series, a library of commentary on people and issues in the dance field. This repository of essays includes interviews by writers and thinkers on dance, as well as “dance discursions,” which offer opportunities for reflection on the field of dance commissioned by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Dance ethnologist and anthropologist Toni Shapiro-Phim traces the legacy of Cambodian dancer and teacher Pen Sokhuon against the backdrop of the historical and political changes that have taken place in Cambodia.

From the essay:

“Sokhuon’s centrality to Cambodia’s dance world stems in part from her continued technical prowess and expressive elegance. But it also reflects a broader truth: Cambodia’s tragic 20th-century history has had an enormous impact on the cultural life of the country, leaving alive perhaps only a tenth of the nation’s professional artists by the end of the 1970s. Teaching new generations of dancers under the daunting conditions of continued civil war and extreme poverty has resulted in the graduation of persevering, accomplished younger performers, some of whom have stayed in Cambodia and continued to dance, and many others of whom have left the arts for better-paying work, or left the country altogether. The wide impact of recent history on the lives of artists is brought into high relief when we trace the experiences of a prominent dancer such as Pen Sokhuon.”

Download the essay (PDF) >