Dr Amanda Rogers
In Cambodia, dance embodies the tension between past understandings of the nation and future imaginations of what it might become. This link between dance and nationality – embedded in the iconic Apsara dancer – dates to at least the 9th century. However, during the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) classical dance was nearly eradicated; 90% of artists were executed, or died from torture, starvation and exhaustion. In the post-genocidal era, the restoration of Cambodia has been bound up with the restoration of dance. Dance is the pre-eminent site for articulating what it means to be Cambodian.
My research traces the shifting formation of nationality through dance, attending to thematic content, form, artistic choices, emotional entanglements, and relationship to the state.
I am the only researcher actively working on Cambodian dance in the UK, having been initially drawn to the incredible story of destruction and revitalisation behind this art form, and the weight, perhaps trap, of responsibility that it carries for dancers today. The context is also a prism onto much bigger questions around how nations rebuild themselves after conflicts, and the role of the arts in this process. During the fellowship I will be travelling to Cambodia and the USA, and the Creativity Fellow can potentially join me on a visit to facilitate creative research and development opportunities. More specifically, there are two dynamics of my research with which I would especially welcome their engagement, drawing upon archival materials, interviews, photographs, and practice-based choreographic analysis.
The first theme is the idea of ‘dancers as diplomats’ and how dancers navigate the agendas of NGOs, the Cambodian state, expectations of the host country, and their own creative and personal desires when on tour. I am researching the first tour of Cambodian dancers to the West after the genocide, which was to the UK in 1990, but also more recent events such as the 2013 Season of Cambodia in New York. In 1990, Cambodia was a state-in-transition, having been under Vietnamese occupation, and was diplomatically isolated and ineligible for development aid. The tour and its associated activities (such as teaching 1,300 school children classical dance, and the production of Dancer, John Harvey’s play about the troupe) were linked to campaigns by Oxfam UK that shifted British and international policy. I am also tracing how more recent tours rework the image of Cambodia as a war-torn country to present an artistically revived nation. The Creativity Fellow can engage with materials that include my interviews with dancers and NGO workers, newspaper coverage from the Scottish Theatre Archives, campaign and political materials from the Oxfam archive, footage at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and potentially the personal archives of dance photographer Alan Crumlish.
My second area of research, using interviews, choreographic analysis, and practice, is how dancers are developing ‘contemporary Cambodian dance’ to create new modes of expression that may, or may not, involve the use of classical dance forms (for example Amrita, Sophiline Ensemble and New Cambodian Artists). The intimate association between dance and nationality means these experiments can be politically contested as they strike at the heart of what constitutes Cambodian identity and culture. Alongside questions around what form the dancing body should take, these works explore social issues such as the legacies and experiences of the Khmer Rouge, the perception of women in Cambodian society, displacement and urban development, and LGBTQ and disability rights. These experiments are loosening the proscribed physicality of the dancing body and who it represents, but must also navigate government rhetoric of artistic ‘freedom with responsibility’.
More generally, I am excited by creative, practice-based approaches to doing research and am eager to explore the possibilities for interpreting and communicating my work with a Creativity Fellow.