Geopolitics and Performance: The role of NGOs in contemporary Cambodian dance

Report from Dr. Amanda Rogers, 2014 ASEAS(UK)-British Academy-ECAF Fellowship Recipient

ASEASUK Amanda RogersI visited the EFEO (École Français d’Extrême Orient in Phnom Penh in May 2014 as part of my ASEASUK-British Academy-ECAF fellowship on ‘Geopolitics and Performance: The role of NGOs in contemporary Cambodian dance’. This interest emerged from my British Academy postdoctoral fellowship, for which I examined the transnational migration and performances of Asian artists in the UK, US and Singapore. Whilst in Singapore I saw several performances of contemporary Cambodian dance, and it seemed that it was being shaped by wider political and economic geographies.

The broad aim of the project was to examine transnational political and economic influences on contemporary Cambodian performance, focusing on the extent to which NGOs and aid agencies enable innovations in classical dance forms. Classical Khmer dance is often discussed in relation to its reconstruction using foreign aid in the wake of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), locking artists into a dependency relationship that fails to cultivate innovation. Conversely, the return of diaspora artists to Cambodia is often depicted as the driving force in contemporising classical dance.

I wanted to bring these perspectives together to think through how NGOs and foreign donors support companies and individuals experimenting with classical dance forms, the adaptations in creative practice and Khmer identity that result, and the political tensions that surround such backing. I was able to conduct 28 interviews with NGOs and dancers whilst in Phnom Penh alongside two focus groups, and I watched performances at the Bophana Centre Archives. The ECAF centre was really helpful in introducing me to artists they knew or had worked with, as well as French academics working on Cambodian dance.

Her book on this topic, Performing Asian Transnationalisms: Theatre, identity and the geographies of performance, was published by Routledge in 2015.

Cambodia Dance Praveen

Dr. Amanda Rogers is a Lecturer in Human Geography at Swansea University. | Image Credit: CC by Praveen/Flickr .