In Pamina Devi: A Cambodian Magic Flute, choreographer and lyricist Sophiline Cheam Shapiro turns one eye toward Mozart’s operatic exploration of enlightened change in the aftermath of the American and French Revolutions and another eye toward her own experience with ‘enlightened’ change and revolution, which came as the direct result of the cruelty and suffering inflicted by Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79).
Working from within the conservative structures of Cambodia's pin peat (classical) music, Shapiro sets her piece in a mytho-poetic time and space and speaks through an elaborate vocabulary of refined and poetic percussive music. But she also pushes the form through the use of reconceived musical arrangements and instrumentation.
"I am a child of transformation. Having survived four radical regime changes, I view utopian ideas of societal and political transformation with caution. Yet on a personal level I have found transformation to be a way of transcending the crippling circumstances that all that societal turmoil leaves in its wake. In the aftermath of Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, I transformed myself from a child with a distended belly and head lice into a celestial nymph by studying, performing and entering the magic and mythology of the thousand-year-old art of classical dance. Within a few years, I, along with a whole new generation of artists, was touring my country and the world, reminding everyone that Cambodia is the heir to more enduring legacies than auto-genocide. A decade later, having exhausted the opportunities available to me in Cambodia, I immigrated to the USA, where I studied and explored and transformed myself from a standard-bearing performer into a choreographer who infuses a venerable form with new ideas and who turns a traditional tool of the powerful into a vehicle for personal interpretation. Now I have returned to Cambodia, well-spring of my life’s work.
In some ways, I feel like a lotus shoot that has struggled through mud and murky water to emerge above the surface where it blossoms in sunlight. I find a personal resonance in Pamina’s tortuous journey, which, like mine, allows her to overcome betrayals and transforms her into someone who transcends the darkness from which she is born." – Sophiline Cheam Shapiro