Officially kicking off this Saturday, April 13, Cambodian Livings Arts (CLA) presents "Season of Cambodia," a "living arts" festival of culture, performance and visual art across the city. Music and dance performances, theater, and film, populate April and May, while visual art exhibits continue through early summer.
CLA has humble beginnings as a creative arts organization founded in 1998 to revitalize and promote artistic development in a region debilitated by the Khmer Rouge regime. Cambodia has come a long way since then, and CLA proudly sets a model for other international non-profits to follow. With its "Season of Cambodia: A Living Arts Festival," CLA highlights over 125 visual and performance artists, bringing these talented artists right to New Yorkers' backyards.
The festival had its "soft" opening on February 23, with the visual art exhibition, "Cambodia Rattan: The Sculpture of Sopheap Pich," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Pich uses natural and organic materials such as rattan and bamboo to create abstract forms often inspired by anatomy and biology. "Cambodian Rattan" is the longest running exhibit of the festival, showing through July 7. If you visit this exhibit on April 14, you may even get a chance to meet the artist himself and learn more about his inspirations. Learn more about others artists' talks and symposiums here.
The festival's official Opening Ceremony event takes place on Saturday, April 13, from 3pm to 5pm at the Rubin Museum of Art, a local museum known for its focus on Himalayan art and sculpture from ancient through modern times. The opening ceremony is set to coincide with the celebratory start of the Cambodian New Year, and will feature traditional Cambodian music and chanting.
What else can you expect to see, hear and experience during this "Season of Cambodia"?
If performance art is what you seek, consider purchasing coveted tickets to the festival's first major production, "A Bend in the River," which is currently playing at the Joyce Theater, through April 14. SOC notes that renowned Cambodian performance and visual artists collaborated to produce a richly narrated story of "love, heartbreak, vengeance, consequence and redemption," interpreted by Cambodia's own Khmer Arts Ensemble, as choreographed by transcendent choreographer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro. "A Bend in the Rivier" is set to an original, live musical score composed by Him Sophy, and also features puppets created by Sopheap Pich ("Cambodia Rattan" sculptor).
Put yourself right in the middle of the arts festival by taking a Master dance class in general movement, Cambodian Classical Dance or Khmeropedies III. If you'd rather be off the dance floor watching others perform, there is a great lineup of dance performances at the festival throughout the beginning of May. You may want to marvel at the opulent costumes and gracefulness of the performers of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia at "The Legend of Aspara Mira," which will be showcased May 2 through May 4 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
For indie rock fans, you'll want to head to Le Poisson Rouge this Saturday night at 7:30pm
to catch "Dengue Fever," a band based out of Los Angeles that mixes Cambodian pop with American indie rock styles. Preview their dynamic music here. Learn about other musical performances sponsored by SOC here.
Photography and visual art fanatics have a plethora of options to choose from as well. Exhibit themes include the U.S. bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, rare images of female Royal Ballet of Cambodia principal dancers from 1927, as well as contemporary art and sculpture exhibitions throughout the city.
Finally, a living arts festival wouldn't be complete without a film series. Season of Cambodia's documentary film series features films that explore multifaceted themes in Cambodian culture and history, ranging from "Five Lives," a collection of documentary shorts about modern life in Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Phen, to "S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine," which explores atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge regime from the point of view of former prisoners and the very guards who essentially enslaved them. All films will be screened at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
"Season of Cambodia: A Living Arts Festival" presents an incredible opportunity for Americans to experience Cambodia like we've never seen it before, raise cross-cultural awareness, and promote and inspire artistic expression and more importantly, artistic freedom, worldwide. Browse the festival's Program of Events to find the experiences that most strike your fancy, though I can't promise it will be easy to choose!