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Cambodia & Diaspora: Amara Prum and her commitment to traditional Khmer dance

Dear readers, in this new feature dedicated to Cambodian talent around the world, here's Amara Prum, who not only embodies grace and beauty, but also fervently conveys our culture and traditions with the utmost authenticity.

Amara Prum. Photo provided
Amara Prum. Photo provided

Through the passionate eyes and eyes of someone who believes that " there's no such thing as coincidence ", here is Cambodge Mag's exclusive interview with Amara Prum. This stunning Franco-Khmer Apsara dancer, who performed at La Ferme du Buisson (France) on January 28, tells us about her love of dance and the three associations she is involved with.

 

Interview

 

You were born in France to parents who fled the Khmer Rouge regime at a young age. Tell us about your fondest memories of your early years, at school and at home.

Coming from an extremely close-knit sibling group, I'll definitely think of our family gatherings, especially those spent together at the Pagode de Vincennes, ceremonies such as New Year's Eve or Pchnum Ben, and our picnics. As my parents are keen on art and culture, I'd also like to mention all the events that inevitably brought us closer to our own, whether it was through associations, through parties given by the Cambodian school where we were all enrolled, exhibitions at the Musée Guimet... or our family meals at the Tricotin in the 13th arrondissement.

Another point, the establishment of the family hierarchy rule - or age in general - by our mother from the age of five, as well as all the marks of respect specific to Cambodian culture.

What did you regularly watch on cassette, and why?

VHS tapes of my mother's royal ballet... and the first dance I tried to reproduce when I was five was, without realizing it, that of the Apsaras!

What kind of school did you attend from an early age?

We went to the Cambodian school in Noisiel, with its Sunday morning classes.

Then, when you were about eight, you decided on your own to enroll in school, attracted by a certain background. Tell us about it!

I'd originally enrolled in language classes, but a visit to an association that introduced me to dance was a wake-up call. At the age of eight, I decided to sign up of my own accord!

What was your parents' reaction?

My mother recently told me that she was pleasantly surprised to hear that I had signed up for dance. She was proud and happy to know that I had taken this step to become more interested in my culture, and supported and accompanied me throughout my career afterwards.

Later, an extraordinary event took place at the Pagode de Champs-sur-Marne. What was it, and how would you describe it?

Following the inauguration of the Buddhist temple at the Champs-sur-Marne Pagoda (run by a member of the Royal Family), an extraordinary event took place in the presence of some of Their Highnesses. Here, I had the chance to perform for the man who was to become the future King of Cambodia.

Pose during a break. Photo supplied
Pose during a break. Photo supplied

That day, you were also able to feel the rigor, demands and excellence required by the Royal Ballet. Could you briefly draw a comparison with ballets outside Srok Khmer?

It was my first opportunity to rub shoulders with the dancers of the Royal Ballet, particularly those from the pre-war generation. That day, I discovered another perspective, one linked to the Sacred (through fruit offerings, incense, blessings...) and a discipline filled with rigor and authenticity.

"The bond and devotion I discovered there, uniting the dance teacher and her pupil, made a particular impression on me.

On a more personal note, how do you feel about dance?

I feel I have a role to play in preserving our culture and ensuring the continuity of this art in a spirit of respect and sacredness.

Could you briefly explain the five gestures for beginners?

Dance is built around five basic gestures that form the cycle of life:

  • The first gesture, with the index finger pointing upwards, simulates a flower stalk. This flower is then transformed into a bud

  • This will then blossom and open into a flower when it comes into contact with light (the fingers are tightened, but open, like petals).

  • When the middle finger is wedged inside the thumb, and the other fingers remain raised, the whole forms a ball representing the fruit

  • This will then fall, giving way to a leaf

The cycle of life thus comes to an end.

These five basic gestures, depending on their position in relation to our body, will then express feelings and gestures, which, when linked together, will tell a story. There are now over 4500 postures.

You're active in three associations. Describe each one and the role you play in it

My 1st, SELAPAK KHMER, is the association of the heart. It's a family association, sharing our culture in the broadest sense of the word. I've been involved with it since I was four, and it also allows me to explore a lesser-used side of dance, such as memory projects with teacher Neak Kru MAM Kanika.

My 2nd piece, TEP MONOROM, was created three years ago. It's a troupe of now over thirty dancers (including myself) led by the last of the world's five star dancers, Chap Chamrœunmina, appointed by the late Her Royal Highness Princess Buppha Devi. I played the main character in the Epic of the Goddess Kolyaneï Tévi during our performance at the Théâtre de Bourges, with a world first: the use of haloed crowns.

In the lead role, Kolyaneï Tevi, surrounded by my two teachers and STARS of Ballet dancers, Chap Chamroeuntola and Chap Chamroeunmina.
In the lead role, Kolyaneï Tevi, surrounded by my two teachers and STARS of Ballet dancers, Chap Chamroeuntola and Chap Chamroeunmina.

The 3rd association is mine. It's called INDRADEVI Beaux-arts du Cambodge. Its aim is to support the endangered classical arts of Cambodia, to preserve and promote them through fund-raising.

N. B. I manage and arbitrate projects for the first two associations.

Your year 2023 was also memorable in many ways. Tell us about the highlights of this period

My schedule was extremely busy and therefore carefully managed. With between 20 and 30 shows a year, I'd say the highlights were :

  • The 100th anniversary of the Friends of the Musée national des Arts Asiatiques Guimet

  • Performances in Switzerland

  • The grand ballet performed in the USA following an exchange project, an emotionally-charged trip (a tribute project bringing together my dance teacher's generation to honor the memory of their deceased teacher) to Cambodia with our French and American troupes respectively.

  • My lead role in Tep Monorom's Ballet Kolyaneï Tévi

Following all these adventures, encounters and performances, what would you like to see over the next three years?

To support artistic creation and cooperation, but also to develop projects to promote a better understanding of dance and traditional classical arts such as shadow theater.

Finally, what advice would you give to young children/girls/women wishing to learn Khmer classical dance?

I always recommend trying out several dance schools to get a feel for which one you feel most at home with, based on the feeling and connection you have with a dance teacher.

Dancing is also accessible to everyone, regardless of age, body type or flexibility requirements. We can quickly acquire the basics when we're having fun and feeling good with the dance teacher!

Interview by Chantha R (Françoise Framboise)

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