Reaksmey Lath's Apprenticeship Blog
Hi everyone! I just wanted to first thank ACTA for this great opportunity and you all for reading. My apprenticeship is pretty much done, and within these past six months, I feel that I have accomplished a lot. Before I started the apprenticeship, I basically was a beginner again because I was away at acollege and had to take a break from dancing. Now I feel like I've not only retained my old self, but I have improve a lot. Now that the apprenticeship is done, many asks "now what?" Seriously, now what? How can I use the knowledge that I've gained? Well, teaching of course!
All that I have learned will be taught to my students at the Khmer Arts Academy. One of the main goals for this apprenticeship was for me to gain enough experience and knowledge so that I can educate the next generation so that our beautiful art and culture will not be lost and forgotten in America.
Before I can teach, there is one more place I have to go. CAMBODIA! My next training will be in Cambodia with Neak Kru Charya's sister, Neak Kru Sophiline. Everyday I think to myself, "How lucky am I to get trained by two of the best in the world?" This is a very exciting opportunity for me. I can't wait to share all that I have learned this year!
ACTA, again, thank you so much for this experience. It was definitely a life-changing experience!
Hello everyone! As my appreticeship is nearing the end, I'm am quite sad, but proud of the improvements I have made. My fifth set of workshops wasn't as bad, probably because compared to the last set, this set felt a little more relaxed. This was my last face-to-face workshops, but we're not totally done yet. We mainly worked on reviewing the dances I have learned with her. Of course I was still soaked after every training, but she did do a lot of talking. She mainly spoke to me about how I was going to maintain my new knowledge and how I would like to make dancing a routine.
Neak Kru Charya showed me a video of her from 2000 when she went back to Cambodia. In the video was her teacher, Neak Kru Leas, who have passed on now. Neak Kru Charya had a "Sompeah Kru" ceremony for her teacher which is a ceremony to thank your teacher, a very old tradition. After the ceremony, Neak Kru Leas sang and reviewed a "Buong Soung" and "Preah Vorachun" with Neak Kru Charya. Though in her late 70s, Neak Kru Leas was still very strong and memorizing to watch. It was very interesting to see my teacher be the student and seeing her get hit for her mistakes. By seeing this video, it made me realize that my teacher was once in the same position I am today and it is very motivating to me that one day I hope to be as amazing as Neak Kru Charya.
P.S. Pictures will come soon!
Hi everyone! I apologize for taking so long to write a new entry! I've had a crazy ending to my school year!
Anyway, my forth set of workshops I would have say was the craziest set so far! The main purpose of these workshops was to prepare me for my performance for the Cambodian new year celebration in San Jose.
We started the training with another prayer and offerings to ask permission for me to learn the dance, Preah Vorachun. Everytime we pray it always sends chills down my spine. Preah Vorachun is a character from a story that explains the origin of thunder and lightening. He is a prince of the earth and a student of a great hermit. His classmates were Moni Mecala, the goddess of water, and Ream Meso, the demon. In the particular scene that I learned, Prince Vorachun is in his bedroom getting ready to mingle with gods in heaven. He is admiring himself and even plays with his dagger.
This particular dance was extremely challenging to me. The dance was 12 minutes long and requires a lot of energy. Prince Vorachun is a very handsome and strong man and I do not obrain those qualities whatsoever. Trying to understand his character was difficult because I had to develop this handsome, royal, and strong attitude.
While I was working with Neak Kru Charya, I was doubting myself a little because I didn't feel like I would be ready for the performance which was in a few days, but she believed in me and assured me that I would be. When the day of the performance came, I was really excited. I felt ready! The performance like learning the dance was very hard. The tightness and heaviness of the costume and the difficulty of the dance made it very hard for me to breathe towards. I felt like I was going to faint, but I knew I had to finish this performance!
Though this experience was very difficult for me, I am truly grateful to have learned this piece because this dance is not taught too often.
Neak Kru Charya correcting a pose backstage before the performance.
Me doing a pose for Chhouy Chai Chhma, a female dance. Different from the male form, the female form is more closed and smaller.
Me in a female costume for Chhouy Chai Chhma, with my Big Sister Sonjya. (Sorry this is the only picture I have from that day).
Neak Kru Charya and I in costume for the performance at the Getty. I am dressed as a male and she is dressed as a female.
Hello everyone! Neak Kru Charya and I had our third workshop and it was for five days in March. During the five days we polished Buong Suong Pream, the dance that I was taught in our previous workshops. I finally got the dance down and Neak Kru even told me that my form is much better than before. This made me feel so accomplished because I can tell that I'm making her proud because of myy progress and I am proud of myself! That weekend we had our performance for the Getty Museum for their Gods of Angkor Cambodian art display. I performed Buong Suong Pream and I'm pretty sure we did well because after the performance we got to go out and meet our audience and they had a lot of nice things to say. Neak Kru thanked me and told me I did well.
During our workshop I was taught another dance called Chhouy Chai Chhma which is a female dance. With my apprenticeship I am supposed to learn and distinguish both the male and female roles. I would have to say that the female role is much easier than the male role. The form and the attitude is easier for me to adapt to because I am very feminine and I can understand how to be a girl better. Before she started teaching me the dance we did a litter prayer to the past teachers to ask permission for me to learn the dance and to ask for forgivness ahead of time for any mistakes that I will make. Cambodian classical dancing is very sacred and spiritual and we still practice these prayer traditions. I didn't get to write about of first workshop, so I want to touch up on it a bit.
Like I just mentioned Cambodian classical dance is very sacred and we still practice the prayers, so before I started learning from Neak Kru Charya, we did a little prayer and offering ceremony to become student and teacher. I had a plate of fruit with incense and i offered it to her to become her student and she said a little prayer to make it be known to the past teachers that I am her student. I felt that was a very intimate thing to do and that it was really official that I was her student. Anyway, the first workshop was very hard. My body had gotten so stiff and I just didn't have the energy to train for a long time. The whole expererience was painful, but amazing at the same time.
After I learned the dance, Chhouy Chai Chhma, I was able to perform it a few weeks later at Alpha Psi Rho's benefit concert to raise money for the victims of the tsunami in Japan at San Diego State University. It was tough to dress myself without anyone who had experience with Cambodian dance costuming. Luckily I had my Big Sister Sonjya to help me. I just talked her through all of the sewing. This was a challenging day for me because I didn't have Neak Kru to help me that day, but I feel like the performance went well and I was able to showcase what I've learned to help a good cause.
I feel really good about my progress with this master/apprenticeship because with only two workshops later she was already saying these uplifting things. Our next workshop is coming up soon and I will be learning another dance called Preah Vorachun which is a male dance. I'm a little nervous about this piece because it is a very challenging role and I will be performing this for San Jose's Cambodian new year celebration. That's all for now. I can't wait to update you about the next workshop!
<3 Mea Lath
Neak Kru Charya correcting me on my posture as we work on "Buong Suong Peam", a male role. I may be smiling, but my body is screaming!
This past weekend, Neak Kru (formal way of calling your female teacher) Charya and I had our second workshop. We rehearsed for our upcoming show on March 12th at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. For this performance she is preparing me for the dances "Buong Suong Pream" which is a dance that is part of a blessing ceremony to ask for rain when there is a drought and "Forever my Ancesotors" which is one of her choregraphed pieces. Both dances I will be dancing the male role. Since our first workshop, we have been focusing on the male role because it is a more challenging role for me than the female role. This particular role is very challenging because it is more strenuous on my body. The posture and movements of the male are bigger than the females and there is more pressure put on my legs because I have to keep them open the whole time. I would say that it feels like holding a squat position for 10 minutes at a time. Another challanging factor of this role is the attitude and being masculine. I consider myself as being very feminine and I don't have a masculine bone in my body, but it is very possible to do this. When I watch Neak Kru Charya or another professional dancer dance the male role, I sometimes forget that they are women. I get lost in the performance.
At end of the day, I leave feeling very sore in not just my legs, but every part of my body. I know that I'm doing something right, but I'm alwys told, "If it doesn't hurt, then you're probably not doing it right." Though my body is in pain, but I am very happy. I do feel that my skills are progessing and I am becoming a better dancer. I feel very fortunate to be an apprentice of Neak Kru Charya. I am also very excited for our performance! If you are around LA on March 12, please come see our performance! That is all for today.
<3 Mea Lath