cambodian classical dance

(Image description: A middle aged Cambodian woman is looking slightly towards the left. She is against a black background, with a black shirt, mostly concealed under a peachy-beige scarf wrap.)

Sophiline Cheam Shapiro/ (ឝភីរោ ជៀម សុភិលីន): Why she kicks ass

  • She is a groundbreaking choreographer, dancer, vocalist and educator whose challenging work has infused the venerable classical form with new ideas and energy.
  • She was one of the first students to learn from the masters of dance who had survived both the end of the court and the later violence of Pol Pot, who specially targeted artists. 
  • Being among the first generation of classically trained Cambodian dancers to graduate from the School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, Sophiline devoted herself to master the complex and intricate gestures and movements of classical Cambodian dance.
  • Along with her husband, Sophiline launched the Khmer Arts Academy to teach a new generation of Cambodian-Americans the traditional art and culture of Cambodia.
  • In 1990 Shapiro did a classical Cambodian dance adaptation of Othello called SAMRITHECHAK (2000) (សម្រីតិចក់) where she used symbolism and metaphors to allude the Khmer Rouge of their guilt and denial of the crimes they committed on Cambodia.
  • Her choreography includes THE GLASS BOX (2002) and SEASONS OF MIGRATION (2005), which she has set on Cambodia’s finest performing artists and toured to three continents. Notable venues include Cal Performances, the Hong Kong Arts Festival, New York’s Joyce Theater and the Venice Biennale. PAMINA DEVI had its world premiere at the Schönbrunn Palace Theater as part of Vienna’s New Crowned Hope Festival (2006).
  • She has received numerous honors, including Asia 21, Creative Capital, Durfee, Guggenheim and Irvine Dance Fellowships, as well as the Nikkei Asia Prize for Culture.

Profile of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, Cambodian Classical Dancer

“Awarded in 2009 with a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, SOPHILINE CHEAM SHAPIRO is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Khmer Arts Academy (Long Beach, CA/Phnom Penh, Cambodia). She is a choreographer, dancer, vocalist and educator whose original works have infused the venerable Cambodian classical form with new ideas and energy. She has set choreography on Cambodia’s finest performing artists, and teaches, lectures and tours internationally, from the Venice Biennale to New York’s Joyce Theater to the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Sophiline has worked with artists including John Zorn, Los Angeles Master Chorale, and Chinary Ung, and was commissioned by director Peter Sellars to premiere her original work Pamina Devi at Vienna’s New Crowned Hope Festival in 2006. As one of the first generation to graduate from Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) after the fall of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, she became a member of RUFA’s faculty until she immigrated to Southern California in 1991 where she studied dance ethnology at UCLA and established Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach, expanding her organization to Phnom Penh in 2006.” [source]


Robam Teveak Sreysour