Thoughts on Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia at Brooklyn Academy of Music

Seeing Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia at the Brooklyn Academy of Music was one of those moments where you could feel the world shift with in you. It was a magical experience that seemed to change the very core of your being.

Entering the theater we were given while shrouds to drape over our shoulders. We were going on a journey and we had to dress appropriately. We then witnessed a procession as the performers and others walked through the audience and up and around on the stage. Snaking around and behind the stage they picked up “packages” and then brought them to the foot of the stage where a young woman arranged them. The musicians, dancers and chorus then took their places and the performance began.

Mixing dance, music and film the Howard Gillman Opera House was turned into a large place of mourning. Traditional Cambodian instruments mixed with a chamber orchestra and the voices of a chorus and solo singers to tell the story of the lost and the survivors of the Khmer Rouge. Faces of the lost, of the war, of the killing fields and the sky filled not only the screen over the stage but the walls of the opera house- We couldn’t look away- we were in that place…

On the stage the offerings were rearranged. People danced, and moved.

In the audience the universe shifted, our souls traveled. We mourned those we lost but never met. We celebrated those that survived and bore witness.

This was a performance that transcended the earthy notion of a kind of requiem mass to be a universal healing rite.

And when it was done and we filed out we were all given envelopes with a picture of one of the dead. A reminder of the evening and of the loss of a life.

Words cannot express what happened Friday night. It was more than theater, more than cultural rite. It was something greater. It was something almost other worldly and glorious.

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