How Cambodia’s 1st all-male, gay dance company is preserving tradition

How Cambodia’s 1st all-male, gay dance company is preserving tradition


JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: bringing ancient traditions
alive in a new light. Artist Prumsodun Ok is taking a form of dance
that dates back to performances solely for royalty in Cambodia. His Khmer dance company is transforming that
classical style by using an all-male and openly gay group to showcase the art to the public. He now gives his Brief But Spectacular take
on this unique tradition. It’s also part of our Canvas series. PRUMSODUN OK, Dancer: So, when you look at
Khmer classical dance, there are a lot of curves in our art form. So we actually train our hands. We bend them back like this. And we have four primary hand gestures that
we use. This is — represents a tree. That tree is going to grow and then it’ll
have leaves. After it has leaves, it’s going to have flowers. And after it has flowers, it’s going to have
fruit. That fruit is going to drop, and a new tree
will grow. And so in those four gestures are the cycle
of life. We use those four same gestures to illustrate
sadness, love, anger, pain, joy, pride. The art form was nearly destroyed in the 1970s,
when the Khmer Rouge took over. In a period of less than four years, 90 percent
of Khmer dance artists lost their lives, during a time in which an entire third of Cambodia’s
population perished through disease, overwork, starvation, and execution. My teacher’s teachers were instrumental in
reviving the art form from the ashes of war and genocide. When I think about, what is my role to this
tradition that was nearly lost, I have a responsibility to offer my fullest self, my realities as
a gay man, someone born and raised in the diaspora, in and of and between many different
worlds. I didn’t go to Cambodia with the intention
of starting Cambodia’s first gay dance company. I had plans to move to Mexico City. Then I got a fellowship to work with all young
male gay dancers. And when I got to Cambodia, my friends, who
are the leading dance artists in Cambodia, they would say, Prum, can you stay here? You know, the country needs you. The art form needs you. And I would say, no, because everywhere I
looked around me, I saw so much sadness. After a month-and-a-half of training these
young men, I sat down and I watched them. And I said, oh, my God, they look like a real
company. And, oh, my God, Cambodia’s first gay dance
company just formed in my living room. To call the company, like, a gay dance company
is a very brave and very forward thing. Before I auditioned the dancers, I told them:
I need brave people. You are going to go on stage and you are going
to represent a community that doesn’t have a voice oftentimes. My name is Prumsodun Ok, and this is my Brief
But Spectacular take on honoring your traditions. JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can find additional
Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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