Monkey see and do

Monkey see and do
Dancers explore aspects of the monkey in Khmeropedies III: Source/Primate.

American primatologist Eric Sargis was watching classical Cambodian dance when he spotted elements of monkey movement in the body of a male dancer, who was portraying the classical Cambodian monkey character.

French-Cambodian choreographer Emmanuele Phuon, 46, recalls how Prof Sargis approached her after the show. "He told me, 'When the dancer performed, I could recognise the gibbon and other types of monkeys.' He was thrilled."

Thus, Khmeropedies III: Source/Primate was born.

Prof Sargis, a professor of biological anthropology at Yale University who specialises in primate skeletons and locomotion, was so intrigued by Phuon's work that he provided her with videos and research about monkeys.

His input enabled Phuon, who is based in Brussels, Belgium, to create the third part of her Khmeropedies series with the Cambodian company Amrita Performing Arts. The first two parts were not about primates, but questioned the characters and techniques of classical Cambodian dance.

In this third part, seven dancers romp around in eight vignettes that explore different aspects of the monkey. These include segments which examine the extent of primates' self-perception through their interaction with mirrors, how they play, and death.

Phuon says the movements and reactions mimic the primates as closely as possible, and that the steps were derived from seven to eight main species, though they focused on only three. "We used mainly the chimpanzee, bonobo and gorilla. They are much closer to us that it was easier to draw on them."

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