Cambodian, Russian artists unite on stage

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The Russian and Cambodian art communities are tapping into their talent bases to take the stage in an attempt to find common ground between the cultures. Hean Rangsey

Cambodian and Russian artists will premiere the play Cunning and Love or The Rain will Pass - the Sun will Rise to the stage at the Russian Centre for Science and Culture (RCSC) in Phnom Penh this Friday.

Circling around the common culture of love and jealousy between the two countries, the theatrical production was initiated by the art community Phnom Paint with RCSC.

Phnom Paint organiser Vitaly Smyshlyaev said Khmer and Russian people are very superstitious and believe in magic and witchcraft. The nature of family communications in Cambodia and Russia is similar in a way that people easily forget misunderstandings and know how to negotiate with each other.

“Love and jealousy are very relevant in Khmer and Russian life, and Russian and Khmer women are very ardent and sharply react to possible suspicions of infidelity.

“The art community has a lot of talented people with acting abilities and we decided to use these abilities and the theme to bring the two cultures closer together,” he said.

The premiere of the play has two official names: One in Russian, which literally translates as Cunning and Love and the Khmer name The Rain will Pass - the Sun will Rise which is inspired by a popular Khmer proverb.

“We chose the Khmer proverb for the title because it accurately conveys the essence of the play,” Smyshlyaev said.

Twelve people have been rehearsing the play, including five Khmer, six Russians, and one Kazakhstani. All the actors and participants are volunteers.

“Combining conversational theatre, choreography, music and video sequences on the screen is a difficult task, so we chose a short play,” Smyshlyaev said.

The play involves dancers from the Association of Fine Arts.

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The production of Cunning and Love or The Rain will Pass - the Sun will Rise will premiere in Phnom Penh this Friday at the Russian Centre for Science and Culture. Hean Rangsey

The plot summary starts with a wife who believes her husband has a lover. She was advised by her best friend to turn to a witch to protect her family from her husband’s love affair.

During the visit to the witch, several funny situations arise and it turns out that the wife’s suspicions were unfounded and everyone is happy in the end.

The production lasts about 35 minutes and includes the song Phnom Penh Summer in the finale.

RCSC chairman Irina Tsatsulina said he believes that theatre is a wonderful way to bring cultures and people closer together.

Therefore, the performance will be held at the RCSC, which has the technical, organisational, financial, literary and theatre resources.

Yet the unavoidable problem is the same one that any bilingual theatre faces. Simultaneous translation requires qualified personnel and special equipment that are not available.

“Equipment for simultaneous translation with a creeping line is expensive and only professional artists are able to work this way,.

“The movie translation technique is also unacceptable. Therefore, we will print a brief summary of the play in the Khmer language and distribute it before the start of the performance.

“We wrote it ourselves so the first play is short. But it will allow us to develop an acceptable technique,” Smyshlyaev said.

Between 120 and 150 patrons were initially expected to attend the premiere. However, organisers want to strictly apply specified security measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

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The toughest challenege the writers and producers faced was making a bilingual play because qualified personnel and special equipment were not available. Hean Rangsey

“In accordance with the new normal, the audience will be around 50 people from Cambodia, Russia, France and Kazakhstan.

“Khmer youth has shown great interest in the play and there are always a lot of spectators at rehearsals who vividly react to the play,” Smyshlyaev said.

For the first production, the art community chose a short play to work out the complex mechanisms of interaction on the stage with the intention of doing bigger productions in the future.

“We hope that after the premiere, we will gain valuable experience and work with the art community to begin work on a serious play – Romeo and Juliet in Phnom Penh.

This play is a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet and is set in Phnom Penh.

“The theme of this play has been relevant for several centuries and it is relevant for modern Cambodia. How could it be otherwise if, as Shakespeare puts it: ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’”

Smyshlyaev said the next play is going to be a serious staging of more than an hour. Twenty-odd actors are planned to participate in it with music, video and choreography.

“[We hope] the difficult issue of bilingualism will be resolved: Khmer and Russian. Students of Russian language courses at the RCSC will perform in the play,” he said.

For now, audience members can enjoy the premiere of the short play Cunning and Love or The Rain will Pass - the Sun will Rise on July 10.

Admission is free and will take place on the stage of the Russian Cultural Centre at 103 Norodom Blvd (between street 214 and 222) in front of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.