Khmer Performers Emerge from the Pandemic with Renewed Purpose

Translator:

Editor:

Laila Afifa

  • Font:
  • Ukuran Font: - +
  • Prumsodun Ok, founder and artistic director of Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA, adjusts Morn Sopharoth's fingers during a dance rehearsal. Photo: Anton L. Delgado

    Prumsodun Ok, founder and artistic director of Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA, adjusts Morn Sopharoth's fingers during a dance rehearsal. Photo: Anton L. Delgado

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Pacing past rows of dancers, Prumsodun Ok’s feet fell to the beat of trak toch, a traditional Khmer melody used when a character displays supernatural powers.

    Pausing by each student, Ok redirected hips, readjusted heads and reformed hands. While a surgical mask obscured most of his face, there was an intensity to Ok’s gaze none of his students wanted to meet.

    Covid-19 quarantine restrictions were lifted earlier this month for vaccinated travellers to Cambodia. In the weeks leading up to the reopening, Ok focused on preparing his dance company to give a flawless first performance.

    “The pandemic has really disrupted our activities because our lack of performances aren’t just a loss of revenue, but a missed opportunity to connect with people,” said Ok, founder and artistic director of Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA, the Kingdom’s first gay dance company.

    “I don’t know when things will open up in a way where there will be enough tourists in Cambodia for us to perform publicly,” he said. “But I am working on making sure that when that moment does come we are able to remerge with a big bang.”

    Before the pandemic, the Kingdom welcomed millions of guests each year and the tourism dollars funded the cultural sector of the industry, which over the last two years has seen artists and organisations struggle to preserve ancient, traditional arts.

    “The artistic and cultural world in Cambodia has suffered tremendously. I hope we can keep this talent alive through this pandemic,” said Phloeun Prim, executive director of Cambodian Living Arts. “Very sadly, we are used to traumatic experiences. We almost lost our cultural identity because of the Cambodian genocide, but if we survived that I hope we can survive this.”