Chey Chankethya The Choreographer

Chey Chankethya (Kethya) started off her career touring nationally and internationally with the Royal Ballet of Cambodia under the direction of HRH Norodom Buppha Devi. In 2006 Kethya began working with Amrita as an artist and was introduced to contemporary dance.

Since then she has been a featured dancer of award winning pieces of contemporary dance, as well as becoming one of Cambodia’s most prolific choreographers in her own right. Kethya’s works have been presented in Singapore Intl Festival of the Arts, Bangkok International Arts Festival in 2014 and Season of Cambodia festival, amongst others. 

In 2011- 2014 Kethya received the Fulbright scholarship with support from the Asian Cultural Council to obtain her MFA degree in Dance/Choreography at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she also received the OS Mostin Award. In 2014 Kethya became the Artistic Director of Amrita.


Chey Chankethya in My Mothers and I. Photo by Tuckys Photography.

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The Terrace of the Leper King – Flashback

“It was very tiring as we were playing many roles (monkey, shadow puppetry, peacock dance, traditional music etc) Sometimes we will go backstage and take a nap between two roles. We even performed twice a day at times. There was no rest but all showcases met a full house, leading the show to be performed to 34 000 people.” Khon Chan Sithyka, one of the Cambodian cast and Amrita artist, telling us about his Terrace of the Leper King experience.

Flashback of the performance below:


Shadow Puppetry – Photo by Hiropro Inc Company.


Photo by Hiropro Inc Company.


Monkeys – Photo by Hiropro Inc Company.


Apsaras – Photo by Hiropro Inc Company.

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The Terrace of the Leper King – Amon Miyamoto Production

Five Cambodian artists, among them Chumvan Sodhachivy (Belle), Chy Lina, Khon Chansithyka (Mo) and Khon Chansina (Nan) from Amrita, have been rehearsing with director Amon Miyamoto on his upcoming production, “The Terrace of the Leper King”, written by the iconic Japanese author by Yukio Mishima. They were invited to collaborate with Japanese actors to revive the glamor of the Khmer empire through Apsara dancing, a classical style dating back to the Angkorean era.


Cambodian dancers with Japanese director Amon Miyamoto

Amon Miyamoto is one of Japan’s leading theater directors and is now focusing more on Japanese tradition with contemporary flair. His latest work, “The Terrace of the Leper King”, is set in the Khmer Empire of the 12th century. The play follows the story of the rise and the fall of Jayavarman the Seventh, the empire’s most powerful leader. While dedicating himself to building a grand temple he was deformed by disease. It questions whether the soul or a youthful body can represent timeless beauty. “The Terrace of the Leper King” will premiere  in early March in Tokyo.

If you want to watch a short reportage about this groundbreaking piece, click here.


Amrita dancer Chy Lina

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A beautiful masculinity – Melissa Coade for Amrita


Noun Sovitou and Nget Rady performing in Brodal Serei. Picture by Anders Jiras.

In the cool shadows of a modest theatre three men shuffle, lunge and swerve with hypnotic artistry. The contortion of their bare arms and torsos imitate the ‘physical gestures of Khmer boxing vocabulary’ in an elegant portrayal of the fighter’s psyche and colours of his every day. Exquisitely choreographed ‘Brodal Serei’ is named after the traditional form of Cambodian freestyle boxing, whose culture and context is paid homage in a performance of beautiful macho-in-slow-motion.

Starting with the playful intensity of a training hall, competitors flip and turn truck tyres, step into jump rope regimes, jibe and jump on one another with boisterous fondness. It is an exclusive world characterised by class and a distinctively masculine energy. This contemporary dance is a mirrored reality punctuated by fluid impressions of hocking spit and hiking the waist-band of sports shorts.

Set against the colloquial narration of a boxer’s dream, the show draws meaning from a fighter’s visions of his own losses and wins. He speaks of fearlessly throwing punches and pain endured ringside, with fresh gashes stitched sans anaesthetic. The fighter’s wife is also given voice. Her account wavers with the weight of concerns about rising costs of city-living and her partner’s diminishing stamina in age. She yearns for a livelihood that does not bank on her husband’s consciousness or the meagre income of hers’ alone.

Brodal Serei is an honest commentary about an almost-spiritual commitment to the sport and a fighter’s shifting loyalties to his competing influencers. The boxing master, competitors and local bookies step on and off the stage with the moving tone of a hushed monologue. Teachings of the fighter’s revered master, whose disciplined instruction pull him from a destined gang-life and the hangover of being born poor, is overshadowed by desperation for money in an expensive city. Urban hunger devours the purity of martial art as the fighter is lured into throwing matches for quick cash.

A special portion of the program is also dedicated to spiritual customs and rituals associated with the sport. Set to the trance-like tempo of a traditional instrumental duo, two fighters heave, exhausted and disoriented. Their slight bodies are thrown against opposite walls of the theatre stage. They turn in convincing spells and the lights dim to near-black as the magical spirit of Brodal Serei unfurls. Fists clasping chalk, they writhe and skirmish on the floor as if possessed, marking the stage with curly characters of Khmer script. One fighter uses black ink to draw a protective yantra on his right thigh. The prominent shadow of the master, softly chanting prayers for protection and strength, is cast up onto large a hand-painted billboard of two boxers and the sounds of Cambodian flute and drums breathe soul into this protracted, frenetic contemporary dance.

The ancient Cambodian martial arts of Bokator and Yutakhun Khom, whose almost-lost remnants are enjoying reimagined popularity among modern-day boxers and artists alike, have been done great justice in this latest offering by Amrita Performing Arts and Tomorrow dances asbl.  The performance was conceived and choreographed by French-Cambodian Emmanuèle Phuon, whose recorded interviews with Phnom Penh boxer Him Saran feature in the narration of the fighter’s dream. Pre-show news coverage describe Brodal Serei as a “biographical dance based on… conversations and friendship with with Saran, who Ms. Phuon befriended while observing boxers at Phnom Penh’s Old Stadium.” (Cambodia Daily, 17 December). The end product is magnetic, raw and real – rather like Cambodia herself – with visitors left wanting more; many more rounds of the sometimes dark magical and animated spirits that this performance evokes.

It is a strange thing to say about a dance, which weaves dreaming with blood-sports, but I left the theatre of Cambodia’s Department of Performing Arts feeling as though I had experienced the rare privilege of deep cultural insight (and all within the space of an hour). I am now resolved to see a real-life Brodal Serei match before leaving Phnom Penh. Fittingly, the next live match will be held on Saturday 26th December 2015 – Boxing Day.

To all those who find themselves in Cambodia, I cannot recommend seeing one of Amrita’s performances enough. I give this performance more stars than all those a knocked-out fighter sees coming-to.

Melissa Coade is a young professional who has spent 2015 based in Phnom Penh. While living in Cambodia her most rewarding pursuit has been learning the Chapey Dang Veng and wherever possible connecting with the Khmer Arts. She is originally from Sydney, Australia.
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Our Artistic Director in her latest artistic collaboration – Soil

Photo by Michael Sakamoto

Photo by Michael Sakamoto

Our Artistic Director Chey Chankethya just finished her series of showcases held at the University of Iowa for her latest collaboration Soil, an intercultural dance theater trio conceived and directed by Michael Sakamoto. The piece is co-written and co-choreographed with the performers: Cambodian classical dancer Chey Chankethya, Thai traditional and contemporary dancer Waewdao Sirisook, and Vietnamese-American contemporary dancer Nguyen Nguyen. Soil explores crisis in three Southeast Asian cultures and transnational, East-West identity through the dancers’ personal narratives. The next time the artists will collaborate will be in 2016 with the hope to start touring the piece in 2017 in america and then in Asia. She is sharing her experience with us: “Working on that helped me deepen my understanding of Cambodian social, political and historical context. I did enjoy the process however it was very depressing sometimes.”


Photo by Michael Sakamoto

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Yon Davy – Korean Residency at the Asia Culture Center

“I have learnt a lot from this residency, like how to communicate with other international professional artists from different fields. I think I have also learnt how to manage a budget. But the most important skill I have developed is to learn how to talk about my work to create interest in people, which is crucial to initiate collaboration.

It gave me the opportunity to meet and collaborate with a Korean visual artist named Eunji Cho. Some of my pictures are part of her exhibition which started on November 25th at the Asia Culture Center. Our collaboration will not stop there as she is planning on coming to Cambodia this month to do research and wants to develop her work.”


Photo by Eunji Cho

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Noun Sovitou, one of Brodal Serei’s dancers

© John Vink / Magnum Photos

© John Vink / Magnum Photos

“It was not difficult for me to train with Hem Saran, the professional boxer who taught us basic moves of Brodal Serei, as I am trained in traditional Khmer martial arts. What I found challenging in this project was to understand and convey the right balance between the sport, the athlete’s personal story and the art of dancing.”

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