March 18, 2016
Her Excellency Phouerng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, and other representatives of the Cambodian government. Fellow members of the diplomatic corps. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and dance fans of all ages.
It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here this evening at the extraordinary Chaktomuk Hall to welcome you all to this special joint performance by the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company from the United States and the Sophiline Arts Ensemble from Cambodia, with support from the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia.
Although we did not know each other before today, I feel a kinship with Dana because we have so much in common. No, I can’t dance like Dana… but we are around the same age, we are both Americans of Korean ancestry, and we both grew up in California. It is a true testament to the “global language of dance” that we would meet for the first time here in Phnom Penh, on the opposite side of the world.
Of course Sophiline Arts Ensemble and its director, Sophiline Shapiro, need no introduction here at Chaktomuk Hall, where they perform regularly. Sophiline is the ideal partner for this project because she bridges our two cultures better than anyone, having studied and worked in both Cambodia and the United States. Sophiline and her company represent the very best of Khmer classical and modern dance traditions, and I am delighted to count Sophiline and her husband John as friends as well as fellow Americans.
Dance is such a unique and effective tool for accomplishing this precisely because it does not require a shared language – it relies only on the movement of the human body to stir emotions and to communicate across cultures. This ability to transcend culture and language is one of the reasons that human beings have been dancing for as long as we have had civilization, and probably long before that. To a very real extent, dancing is part of what makes us human, and that’s why tonight’s program is so special.
Before I conclude tonight, I would like to mention three extraordinary groups of young people who are with us this evening and who represent the best of Cambodia’s future.
First off, we have students from our English Access Microscholarship Program class in Phnom Penh. The Access Program provides two years of English language training to more than 200 academically talented high school students from across Cambodia so that they can use the skills to enter the workforce or to continue their education. Please raise your hands, Access students.
The second group is from the Liger Learning Center – an extraordinary U.S. non-profit organization that provides young Cambodians with resources and guidance so that they can become “change agents” for the future. Please raise your hands and be recognized.
Last but not least, we have some members of our Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, or YSEALI. YSEALI is President Obama’s signature initiative to engage with the youth of Southeast Asia. Since it was started in 2013, Cambodian YSEALI members have received start-up grants, participated in national and regional conferences, and even traveled to the White House to meet President Obama. Where are our YSEALI members tonight?
Thank you all again for coming tonight. And thank you also to the Ministry of Culture, to all of the dancers, and to everyone who worked so hard to make this night possible. Enjoy the show, everyone!