Amrita team up for a cross-cultural performance

Cross Transit performers rehearse for their show today at the Department of Performing Arts.
Cross Transit performers rehearse for their show today at the Department of Performing Arts. Sahiba Chawdhary

A mix of the traditional and contemporary, and photography and dance, will be on the stage for two performances tonight and Friday, in a unique collaboration between Japanese choreographer Akiko Kitamura, photographer Kim Hak and local organisation Amrita Performing Arts.

The project was inspired by Hak’s photographs of abandoned homes in Kep, whose landscape is dotted with the remnants of once grand villas, and was originally performed last year in Tokyo.

In Cross Transit, the ghostly aesthetic, and haunted history, conveyed in the photographs is channelled in dance.

One photograph in particular, of an old home once owned by a woman who has now passed away, especially inspired Kitamura.

“Kim Hak’s photograph was about an old woman who died [who] introduced [her] house to him. It reminded me of Japanese Noh, where the main characters are ghosts,” she said, referring to a traditional musical theatre often distinguished by the performers’ masks.

Hak’s photographs will be projected during the dance, and the text that the photographer wrote will be narrated.

To Kitamura, this project is essentially about creating something new and cross-cultural, especially considering both sides’ unfamiliarity with the other’s art. Among the dancers, four are Japanese and one is Cambodian. The Japanese, she said, tend to be more familiar with contemporary dance, while Cambodian dancers – like Chy Ratana from Amrita – are more rooted in a traditional style.

The challenges arising from unfamiliarity manifest themselves across the board – in grammar, vocabulary, and even the creative process. Kitamura herself prefers a dancing style based in martial arts, something alien to a Cambodian context, where dance tends to be in a softer style.

Chy Ratana rehearses his solo.
Chy Ratana rehearses his solo. Sahiba Chawdhary

To Ratana, Kitamura’s technique is wholly new, and through collaborating with her, and in some cases being corrected by her, he says he has found “[his] own feeling” in the performance.

For Hak, the project was also a new direction, forcing him to write as well as photograph. The text he wrote for the performance is in English, Khmer and Japanese.

“At first I didn’t know what I should write about,” he said.

“Akiko asked the dancers to show [their] movements, and I also started to write. Slowly, the piece developed [through] the text and dancers [working together].”

Amrita Executive Director Rithisal Kang, meanwhile, sees this performance as a step forward in terms of artistic possibilities and growth and a genuine “cross transit” of cultures.

“What we love is that when the artists come together, they have challenges, they have problems, because they are so different. But through the creative process, the differences are a way to open the mind,” he said.

Cross Transit will be performing tonight and Friday at 7pm at the Department of Performing Arts. Tickets are $5 and available at the door or in advance at Java Cafe.