Emmanuèle Phuon is French-Cambodian and lives in Brussels, Belgium. She began her dance training with the Royal Ballet of Cambodia at age five. In 1975 she moved to Bangkok with her mother where she lived until she was 16. At that time she decided to become a dancer and left for Avignon (France) where she studied and graduated from the Conservatoire National de Danse in 1986. In 1987, she went to New York.
Emmanuèle has performed with the Elisa Monte Dance Company (1989 – 1994), the Baryshnikov White Oak Dance Project (1995 – 2001) and has worked with Martha Clarke, Joachim Schloemer and Meg Stuart, amongst others. She is a 2009 Asian Cultural Council grantee and has been working with Yvonne Rainer since 2010.
Emmanuèle has been working on the Khmeropédies series of works since 2007, working with Amrita since Khmeropédies II in 2009.
“After many years of dancing in New York I found myself wondering about the possibilities of applying western ideas to traditional Khmer dance. After all, in the west, modern dance derived from ballet, and in many aspects Khmer dance resembles ballet. They both were court dances, required many years of training to achieve unnatural positions, and in both cases they were essentially narrative, called for elaborate costumes and were extremely codified… So the question arose: could Khmer dance take a similar path, or could it at least not be inspired by “new” ideas from the west?
“This curiosity did not appear out of nowhere; I am in fact half Cambodian. My very first dance steps were taken at age five at the Royal Palace where classes took place every morning.
“So I started working on a project. Khmeropédies is a play on words between Khmer and Gymnopédies, a reference to Satie, and could mean “exercises” in Khmer style. As in the Gymnopédies, I wanted this to be in three parts. And on a deeper level, it was a way of reconnecting with my past, and sharing my experience as a dancer of contemporary and modern dance with my Cambodian counterparts. I wanted to see if stylistically we could use the vocabulary as a base, then transform it, cut it apart, mix it with floor work, in short, push it as far as possible away from it’s original form and yet keep it recognizable.”
The latest part of this series is Khmeropédies III which takes its source in the study of monkeys as did the old masters in the tradition of the monkey role. A scientific advisor helped construct the different characters providing the many details that make the monkey’s character come alive such as movement, attitudes, calls and motivations.
This video shows Emmanuèle working with the dancers to refine their movement
And this video shows excerpts from the final piece, filmed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in April 2013.