Dancing with Perséphone

Larry Strange

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Photograph: J P Maurin

Over two weeks in May, a cultural confluence linked Lyon, France’s second city, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, at the Opera de Lyon: a production of Igor Stravinsky’s operatic melodrama Perséphone.

With text by Andre Gide, and directed by the highly acclaimed theatre and opera director Peter Sellars, the production featured four classical Khmer dancers from Phnom Penh-based Amrita Performing Arts. The dancers, Sathya Sam, Sodhachivy Chumvan, Chan Sithyka Khon and Narim Nam, played the respective dance roles of Persephone, Demeter, Pluto and the three male roles of Mercure, Demophon and Triptolemus.

Sathya, the first Khmer dancer, appeared as the moods and emotions of Persephone, followed by the others, who, throughout the narrative, weaved in and out between the deep back reaches and the front of the set, and between the main characters and the three choirs (male, female and children’s). Their effect was heightened by the stark set. Its wide and deep dimensions, large black obsidian blocks and archways framing the action added much to the richness of the choreography. Over the course of the narrative, the choirs came and went — climaxing with all characters, dancers and choirs massed on stage.

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