Boxing, storytelling and dance

Brodal Serei (Freestyle Boxing) by Emmanuele Phuon is performed by dancers from Amrita Performing Arts in Cambodia.
Brodal Serei (Freestyle Boxing) by Emmanuele Phuon is performed by dancers from Amrita Performing Arts in Cambodia.PHOTO: ANDERS JIRAS

Cambodian boxing squares off with dance in Brodal Serei (Freestyle Boxing). Weaving dance, drama and storytelling, the performance portrays the psyche and life of professional Khmer boxer Hem Saran.

The 60-minute work is by French-Cambodian choreographer Emmanuele Phuon and is performed by dancers from Amrita Performing Arts in Cambodia. Commissioned specially for Esplanade's da:ns festival, it will be presented on Oct 22 and 23.

Phuon, 50, a dancer-choreographer based in Brussels and New York, lived in Cambodia until 1975.

She was inspired to create Brodal Serei after viewing Belgian photographer John Vink's exhibition on Khmer boxing, which is similar in style to muay thai. She was struck by the beauty in the bodies of the boxers and the sense of grace and skill that "went beyond the obvious pain and violence".


  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Oct 22,8pmand Oct 23,3pm

    ADMISSION: $30 from Sistic

"Since the 1960s and the Judson Dance Theater, all movement is dance," says Phuon, referring to the Manhattan-based collective in the 1960s, which challenged the formalism of modern dance.

"By compiling attitudes and body movements of fighters, we can understand better how violence is performed,'' she adds. "The ring is the stage. The rhythm of the fight is also the rhythm of the dance."

Boxer Saran was initially surprised by Phuon's desire to combine the two forms. Phuon says: "For him, dancing and boxing were two things. He was, however, interested in teaching - he was a natural coach - and in what the dancers did with his movement."

The Amrita dancers had to learn the vocabulary of the fights. In their performance, the boxing moves are slowed down to highlight their beauty and detail.

Audio recordings of Saran's personal stories will be played during the show, alongside live traditional Khmer music and an electronic score by Singapore artist Zai Tang.

Through Brodal Serei, Phuon hopes to show an aspect of Cambodian society to the world and add to the vocabulary of dance in the country.

"I also wish to turn the Cambodian public's attention to a social class of people who come from poor backgrounds, are often uneducated, and yet, practise this sport like an art, with passion and dedication, much like dancers do."

Nabilah Said

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline 'Boxing, storytelling and dance'. Print Edition | Subscribe