Arts festival Review Singapore Theatre

Review: Snow Whitening Revisited by New Cambodian Artists

Haunting, moving dance work embodying what it means to hold on when everything is falling apart.

When a country has no contemporary arts scene to speak of, it would be easy for one of the only contemporary dancers to use it as an excuse to produce less than stellar work. But for the New Cambodian Artists, Snow Whitening Revisited is more than enough proof that there is fertile ground for the arts in Cambodia, with the talent and creativity in its artists to bring the contemporary scene to new heights.

Directed by Artistic Director Bob Ruijzendaal, Snow Whitening Revisited stars Khun Sreynoch and Ny Lai, playing versions of themselves as they ponder their future as contemporary dancers in a ghost town devoid of tourists, thanks to the pandemic. Dressed in black, the performance begins in dim lighting as Ny Lai performed, Khun Sreynoch watching at the side. Ny Lai’s movements are violent, forceful and jerky, precarious as she attempts to balance herself before losing it again. She eventually falls into Khun Sreynoch’s arms, and the two embrace, almost as if they’re holding on to each other in the face of disaster.

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With ominous, foreboding music, Ny Lai gets up again, zombie-like as she seems to exert effort even from trudging across the stage before collapsing into a heap on the ground. Sreynoch, ever the best friend, goes over in an attempt to ‘revive’ her, jumping over her still body, desperately lifting her wrist to check for a pulse, animal-like in her fidgety, nervous persona.

Sreynoch takes centrestage now, and she too seems to become possessed by an otherworldly force, making guttural sounds from her throat, screeching and tiptoeing across the stage. Ny Lai returns, now dressed in a colourful blazer and pants, and seems to be playing a character, attempting to make Sreynoch conform to certain conventions. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite plays, and they both seem to go into a frenzy, with Ny Lai leading and Sreynoch attempting to follow, stripping down to their undergarments as the music reaches its peak, and refusing to perform classical ballet moves, interpreting the piece in their own way.

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Now dressed in red dresses, the music grows much more sombre, as Sreynoch attempts to lift Ny Lai, but drops her, again and again. We get a sense of the subtle violence and control that underscores these dancers’ lives, before Ny Lai sits down, burning joss sticks and offering a prayer for the deceased. Slowly and deliberately, she shows us individual portraits of women who perished in the Khmer Rouge, discarding each new photo around her, surrounded by these images of the dead, haunting as we see the sadness in her eyes. We feel almost as if their spirits are present in the room with them, even as we watch this stream from behind our laptop’s screen.

In what is probably the most powerful scene of all, Sreynoch arrives dragging a wedding dress behind her, and Ny Lai helps lace her into it. It looks like it is binding her, Sreynoch gently resisting, but Ny Lai holding the strings at the back, refusing to let her go. We are reminded that for many Cambodian women, marriage is often the most direct means to a better life, something that in this incredibly difficult time for artists, can be a tempting option, made worse by social pressure.

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Sreynoch seems dejected in the dress, becoming someone she would never have recognised as she and Ny Lai pat white powder into her face, becoming ghostlier the more powder they pile on. As Sreynoch walks on, she leaves a trail of the same powder behind, like some sort of spiritual residue now that she feels dead inside. There is almost the sense that both women are performing something sacred as Ny Lai, still in her red dress, continues performing in the foreground, before both women fill their hands with powder, and blows at the photos on the ground, as if wishing them well in the afterlife, before the performance concludes.

Having seen how much they’ve suffered both spiritually and physically during these difficult times, we are left to ponder the fate and future of these two dancers as everything around them falls apart. But as they look to their predecessors from the Khmer Rouge and to each other for moral support, we hope only for the best as they trail off the stage. Keenly original, visually arresting, and skilfully executed, Snow Whitening Revisited shows how creativity and artistry can be found in any corner of the world, without a need for fancy sets or technology; just dedication to perfecting their craft, and a sincere message the artists wish to put across.

Photo Credit: Anders Jiras

Snow Whitening Revisited streams from 25th to 31st January 2021 as part of the 2021 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. Tickets available here

The 2021 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival runs from 20th to 31st January 2021. Tickets available from SISTIC

For the first time, the Fringe is launching a special stay-home package to catch all performances at the festival via SISTIC Live. For an exclusive rate of $95, get access to all videos on demand of the Fringe performances throughout their screening periods.

Check out more information and the safety measures at venues the Fringe will be held at on their website here

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