The Journey To Promote New Records In Indochina (P.126) – Sophiline Arts Ensemble (Cambodia): The first music company in Indochina to create a play that heals psychological trauma

( Sophiline Arts Ensemble (formerly Khmer Arts Ensemble) is an internationally renowned classical dance and music company that is based at the Khmer Arts Theatre in Takhmao, Kandal Province. It is quickly becoming an important international centre for creativity, education, exchange and performance. Through the ground-breaking choreography of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, Sophiline Arts Ensemble is the first music company in Indochina to use dances to help heal victims of forced marriages under the Khmer Rouge regime.


“Phka Sla” was a play created by the Sophiline Arts Ensemble as part of the Phka Sla Krom Angkar Exhibition, in cooperation with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC), the Kdei Karuna Organization, Bophana Center and the mental health organization TPO Cambodia.

Phka Sla is a type of flower that is given by the groom to the bride in traditional Cambodian wedding ceremonies. Under the Khmer Rouge, the Phka Sla was given to whomever the senior comrade chose, under the regime’s policy of forcing men and women chosen by it (and sometimes unknown to each other) to wed in order to ensure the creation of a future generation of workers under conditions it controlled.

Dy Chhunsong, reparations program manager at the ECCC, said the performance is a part of the psychological compensation to all survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. At hearings for the tribunal’s Case 002/02, many instances of forced marriage during Khmer Rouge rule were discussed, Mr. Chhunsong said. Many men and women were forced by the Khmer Rouge to marry, and attempt to have children with, someone they did not know. Mr. Chhunsong described the practice as a form of sexual violence. The cruel regime is long gone, but for at least 700 survivors forced into marriages by the Khmer Rouge, the psychological scars have yet to heal.

“The survivors want something that can heal their psychological trauma,” Mr. Chhunsong said. The ECCC decided that a joint project with its partners to create a performance that conveyed the suffering caused by forced marriages had the potential to help survivors. After interviewing and discussing some surviving victims, preparations for the performance began.

“Art is the only means we have to help ease the suffering of survivors. Only art has this ability to convey the victims’ suffering to everyone, which allows healing to begin,” he said.

Choreographer and director Sophiline Cheam Shapiro spent more than a year organizing and developing “Phka Sla.” The piece is based on a book by Theresa de Langis that describes the true stories of eight couples.

“I agreed to work on the project as soon as I heard about it. My first concern was how to come up with something that would ease the survivors’ suffering,” Ms. Cheam Shapiro said, adding that while each forced marriage involved a man and a woman, it was undeniably the women who suffered most.

After reading Ms. de Langis’s book, Ms. Cheam Shapiro eventually selected the stories of three couples and choreographed a traditional dance to tell those stories.

“I will direct the performance, as well as play the role of the female narrator, who will tell the couples’ stories along with a male narrator,” she said.

“Phka Sla” will use the language of dance to tell the stories, choreographed to an original score for pinpeat instruments by Him Sophy, with unique costumes and sets designed by Remy Hou.

“I asked the survivors for their input into the performances; they really loved the piece and requested that it be performed in over 25 provinces and cities so that the younger generation can learn more about what happened during the Khmer Rouge period and about the importance of ending violence against women,” she said.

According to Mr. Chhunsong, the survivors asked that the performance be filmed and stored digitally on behalf of 3,867 Khmer Rouge survivors, including themselves. They also requested that it be broadcast on television for the benefit of those unable to attend. Additionally, they requested that the topic of forced marriages under the Khmer Rouge be taught in public schools. The ECCC is now considering all of these requests.

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