Staging Grace

The magic starts from the very first note of traditional music and, during the next 80 minutes, the Khmer classical dancers in the ballet “Pamina Devi” transport the audience into a saga punctuated by conflicts, fierce battles and, also, love.

Conceived by Cambodian choreographer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, the ballet is filled with movement and emotion. The dancers’ faces remain impassive in line with tradition, yet nonetheless convey a whole range of feelings with just their eyes and body language.

By the time they appear in front of their audience this weekend, the dancers will have been preparing for hours to ready themselves, let alone their days of rigorous rehearsals to get used to the space available on stage.

In this ballet—a Cambodian adaptation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” that premiered in Vienna in 2006—dancers not only utilize the whole floor in simultaneous tableaux, but they also move props that consist of metal wiring in frames of varying shapes.

In addition to the lengthy hair and makeup sessions that artists the world over go through before a performance, the dancers must be partially sewn into costumes, an operation that in Khmer classical dance takes hours.

While the costumes designed specifically for the Sophiline Arts Ensemble’s dancers are far lighter than the customary ones, they still take time to drape over one’s body.

Moreover, the younger girls in the performance, who are part of Ms. Cheam Shapiro’s special training program at her dance company center in Takhmao City, need a little extra help.

Once ready, dancers and choreographer hold a Buddhist prayer ceremony before each performance, a customary ritual. They are then ready to carry the audience into a timeless world filled with human drama, staged through this dance form of infinite beauty.

The ballet is presented Saturday and Sunday at the Department of Performing Arts Theater located off Mao Tse Tung Boulevard behind Spark & Tawandang Microbrewery.

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