Cambodia Sun Rising – OzAsia Festival 2012

This performance epitomises what the OzAsia Festival is all about. You will not leave this uplifting production unmoved, and you will not quickly forget it. It is close to selling out all performances, so hurry for tickets.

By

Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre and Sunrise Children’s Village
Reviewed Thursday 27th September 2012

Cambodia Sun Rising features children from the Sunrise Children's Village, Phnom Penh, founded by Geraldine Cox. In 1993 she established the Australia Cambodia Foundation, which grew and evolved into this much greater project. Orphans and disadvantaged children are welcomed into this Village, which goes far beyond being a combined orphanage and school. It is, for all intents and purposes, a very large family, and the children refer to Cox as “Big Mum”. I heard that three past residents are currently studying at university in Adelaide. This says a lot about the dedication of Cox and the others who assist her in her work.

This performance epitomises what the OzAsia Festival is all about. We are first introduced to the traditional music, dance, and culture of Cambodia under the royal family, but there is far more depth to the production than a music and dance performance. There is a wealth of education and enlightenment, as these children take us back to that time of peace, on through the horrors and atrocities of the despicable despot, Pol Pot, and the murderous Khmer Rouge and then, with a palpable spirit of optimism, they bring us to the present day. Several of the children tell us, on video, about themselves and their lives, before and at the Village, and how much has changed for the better.

The different segments are performed in front of a projected video or image that fills the rear wall, each relevant to the segment. The first, a landscape of the temple of Angkor Wat, took as back to the days of peace, before the Americans started bombing in an effort to kill Viet Cong who had crossed the border. A small group of traditional musicians perform on one side of the stage, on both tuned and untuned percussion instruments. The first to appear are the youngest members of the group, in beautiful traditional costumes. The word ‘cute’ is a major understatement as these delightful performers demonstrate classical Apsara dances to the traditional music of the Royal Court. Soon the older children, and a couple of adults as the King and Queen appear and more of the music and dance from the time is performed. There is a superb elegance to this segment.

Moving on we see some of the superstitions that prevail, including the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, then daily life in a village, and then the dramatic change from domestic simplicity to the horrors that began with the American bombing on New Years Eve, 1964. Worse was yet to come in 1975 when Pol Pot declared that it was to be the Year Zero, and the past was to be wiped clear. During his four year reign of terror around two million people were to die at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia, of course, is the westernised mispronunciation for the country’s original name, Kampuchea, whose inhabitants are Khmer. The Khmer Rouge (Red Khmers – Communists) was formed in 1968 as an offshoot of the Vietcong.

The performers and other Cambodians then tell their stories on projected video, some of which might well move you to tears. This is followed by a look at the country as it is today, still trying to rebuild and recover. It is an absolute joy to see the pleasure these young people have in performing together, the enthusiasm that they have for it, the talent that they exhibit, and their positive outlook on life. Their support of one another in their performances shows just how close they are to each other, reinforcing that idea that they are members of one huge, happy family, where nothing is impossible.

There has been excellent collaboration with some top level Adelaide artists, too. Kate Fowler and Ninian Donald co-directed the production, with Donald also choreographing it. The design was by Mark Thompson, videos by Andrew Fraser, and lighting design by Nic Mollison, while Saam Monitha and Nop Samoeun, from Phnom Penh, former members of the Cambodian National Ballet, teach the children of the Village traditional dance and were also involved as choreographers, and professional musician, Meas Sambo, teaches them the traditional percussion. Modern music was provided by B Boy Peanut who produces Hip-Hop music and works with street kids, teaching them break dancing, which the children performed in the later section and as an encore.

To close, you are invited to be a part of the future. Geraldine Cox has written a book, which can be purchased in the foyer, along with other items that help with fund raising, and you can also become a sponsor. Festival Director, Jacinta Thompson, is to be congratulated and thanked for taking the initiative and bringing this heartwarming production to the festival.

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Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

OzAsia Festival web site

Sunrise Children’s Village web site

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: 11am & 7pm Fri 28th and 2pm Sat 29th September 2012
Duration: 1hr 25mins
Tickets: adult $20/conc $15/student or child $10
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here

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