Sophiline Cheam Shapiro is an exceptional dancer, vocalist, teacher, and award-winning choreographer in the Cambodian classical dance form. A master artist of the 1,000-year-old tradition, Shapiro was a member of the first generation to graduate from the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, after the fall of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. She was also a member of the school’s classical dance faculty when they performed throughout India, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, and the U.S. After coming to the United States in 1991, Shapiro created training workshops in classical dance and music throughout Southern California for hundreds of young people living in the region's large Cambodian refugee community. In 2002, she co-founded the Khmer Arts Academy, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering the vitality of Cambodian arts and culture. She is the only U.S.-based choreographer of Cambodian dance who develops major dances that tour internationally. Her groundbreaking choreography includes Samritechak (2000), a concert-length classical dance adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello, The Glass Box (2002), Seasons of Migration (2005), Pamina Devi (2006), and recent commissions from the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Guggenheim Museum's Works & Process Series (2008). Her essays have appeared in numerous anthologies, including Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields (1997), Dance, Human Rights & Social Justice: Dignity in Motion (2008), and Dances and Identities, from Bombay to Tokyo (2009). Her awards and honors include Guggenheim and Irvine Dance Fellowships as well as the Nikkei Asia Prize for Culture. Her recent work in Cambodia has helped restore classical dance to the once exalted place it held before the Khmer Rouge holocaust. As one of her supporters points out, her life story reminds us that "even in the darkest depths of human tragedy, the spark of art creates a ray of hope that can blossom into bright and glorious triumph."
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