Sophiline Cheam Shapiro is a choreographer, dancer, vocalist and educator whose dances have infused the venerable Cambodian classical form with new ideas and energy. Her work has toured to notable venues on four continents, including Amsterdam’s Muziektheater, Berkeley’s Cal Performances, Cambodia’s Les Nuits d’Angkor, Hong Kong Arts Festival, Los Angeles’ Disney Hall, New York’s Joyce Theater, Venice Biennale, and Vienna’s Schronbrunn Palace Theater. Her dances include Samritechak (2000), The Glass Box (2002), Seasons of Migration (2005), Pamina Devi: A Cambodian Magic Flute (2006), Spiral XII (2008), Munkul Lokey (2008), The Lives of Giants (2010) and Stained (2011). Her commissions include those from the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process Series, the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Vienna’s New Crowned Hope Festival.
Sophiline is a 2009 recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship, a lifetime honor awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, and a USA Knight Fellowship. She was awarded the Nikkei Asia Prize for Culture in 2006 and has received Creative Capital, Durfee, Guggenheim, Irvine Dance and McKnight International Artist Fellowships among many other honors.
Born in Phnom Penh, Sophiline was a member of the first generation to graduate from the School of Fine Arts after the fall of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime and was a member of the dance faculty there from 1988 to 1991. She studied all three major roles for women (neang, nearong and yeak), which is rare. With the school’s ensemble, she toured India, the Soviet Union, the USA and Vietnam. She immigrated to Southern California in 1991, where she studied dance ethnology at UCLA on undergraduate and graduate levels. She is co-founder and Artistic Director of Khmer Arts, dual-based in Long Beach, CA and Takhmao, Cambodia.
Sophiline lectures and teaches at conferences and universities around the world. Her many essays have been published in Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors (1997, Yale University Press), Dance, Human Rights and Social Justice: Dignity in Motion (2008, Scarecrow Press); Cultural Identities: Tokyo to Bombay (2008, Centre national de la danse), Beyond the Apsara: Celebrating Dance in Cambodia (2009, Routledge), and elsewhere.
Photo credit: Patrick You-See