Khmer Arts Ensemble Brings Cambodian Dance to Bryn Mawr

Posted October 14th, 2010 at 11:39 am.

livesofgiants1Fusing the classical and experimental, the spare and complex, and the powerfully spiritual, Cambodia’s Khmer Arts Ensemble will take center stage at Bryn Mawr College’s Goodhart Hall when the troupe presents The Lives of Giants, the newest work from Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, the ensemble’s choreographer and artistic director.

Touring the nation this fall with 30 musicians and dancers from Phnom Penh, the company’s latest production appears at Bryn Mawr one night only, Friday, Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. in the McPherson Auditorium,  as a centerpiece of Bryn Mawr College’s 2010-2011 Performing Arts Series and the celebration of Bryn Mawr’s 125th anniversary.

Admission is free for Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore students, faculty and staff. Ticket prices are $20 for the general public, $18 for senior citizens, $10 for students of other schools, and $5 for children 12 and under. Priority seating is available with $90 subscription packages ($75 packages for senior citizens). For more information and tickets visit Brown Paper Tickets, call the Office for the Arts at 610-526-5210 or visit

Click on the video below to watch the Khmer Arts Ensemble perform.

Works by the ensemble have been described as a “gorgeous spectacle of contradictory sensations” in The New York Times.

The Lives of Giants illustrates the complexity of Shapiro’s work, lying along a continuum from classical Cambodian dance’s mytho-poetic realm of magnificent dress and nuanced vocabulary to an utterly contemporary realm. The musicians and singers of Khmer Arts composed the score and Cheam Shapiro wrote the lyrics. Costumes were designed by opera, theater and film designer Merrily Murray-Walsh, with lighting by Marcus Doshi (who designed Cheam Shapiro’s Samritechak/Othello and Pamina Devi: A Cambodian Magic Flute).

The Lives of Giants tells the tale of Akheang Khamaso, a much-mistreated giant in the Hindu god Shiva’s heavenly temple who seeks a weapon to protect himself from the taunts of mischievous angels. But when Shiva grants him a magic finger that can make anyone disappear, he cannot help dishing out abuse in return. Alerted to the chaos raging through heaven, Vishnu transforms himself into a beautiful dancer and seduces Akheang Khamaso, tricking the giant into turning his magic finger on himself. Enraged and humiliated, Akheang Khamaso vows to be reborn with even more power in order to continue the cycle of abuse and violence that is his fate in this life and the next. As Akheang Khamaso’s demonic nature surges, Cheam Shapiro’s depiction of heaven devolves. Layers of elaborate traditional costuming and the formal vocabulary of the classical Cambodian dance form are stripped away to reveal the sadness and frustration of a bully and a resonant message about the tragic effects of violence on a culture.

In addition to bringing The Lives of Giants to campus, Bryn Mawr College has hosted a series of free events related to Cambodian culture and arts at both college venues and in the wider Philadelphia area. A free demonstration and discussion of Cambodian music with teaching artist Ros Sokun will be held at Goodhart Hall at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 23. Call the Office for the Arts at 610-526-5210 for more information and to make a reservation.

The presentation and residency of Khmer Arts Ensemble is made possible by a grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through Dance Advance, with additional support provided by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

About Sophiline Cheam Shapiro and The Khmer Arts Ensemble:
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro is a choreographer, dancer, vocalist, and teacher of classical Cambodian dance. Raised in Phnom Penh, she studied dance at the University of Fine Arts there, joining its faculty in 1981. After moving to California in 1991 she studied dance ethnology at UCLA from 1997–99. Cheam Shapiro maintains the core of traditional Cambodian dance while adding contemporary content, such as focusing on the role of women in traditional cultures, and working with contemporary composers. She co-founded Khmer Arts, a transnational dance organization based in Phnom Penh and Long Beach, California, which has the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia. Cheam Shapiro was honored as a 2009 National Heritage Fellow, a lifetime award made by the National Endowment for the Arts in recognition of exceptional artistic excellence.

Comments are closed.