NET/TEN Shareback: Prumsodun Ok - Five Thoughts

Prumsodun Ok (Long Beach, CA) sought guidance from Claudio Valdés Kuri (Mexico City, Mexico) on establishing and maintaining a company through one-on-one conversation, rehearsal observation, and artistic exchange.  Ok provided choreographic advice for Valdés Kuri’s LIFE IS A DREAM while exploring Mexico City’s artistic community, laying foundation for future collaborations and performance opportunities.

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FIVE THOUGHTS

As an artist I draw upon the art of Khmer classical dance to forge new possibilities for contemporary performance.  I have been creating original work for five years now and they run the full gamut of being strictly dance-based to performances that are interdisciplinary in nature.  Embracing the totality of theater, and what my former filmmaking teacher describes as being “experimental in approach,” I am committed to keeping the conceptual, formal, and spiritual foundations of Khmer dance alive.  And, through my creative practice, I strive to use art as a tool to positively transform our world.

At this moment in my career, I have established a firm place for myself as performer, teacher, and maker through out the Los Angeles region.  And, ever the adventurous one, I am ready and eager to share my work with a global audience.  I thought I could heighten the quality of my work and push myself to this reality by somehow transforming the artists who regularly perform with me into a company.  I received a NET/TEN Travel Grant to seek advice from esteemed director Claudio Valdes Kuri on how to do so.

Through delightful conversations over food, pleasant walks through the city, and after intensive choreographic sessions, Claudio told me this: don’t.  Don’t start a company that you can’t feed.  Instead, from our conversations and my observations of his working process, I learned these important ideas that may be helpful to other artists ready to rise and shine on the world stage.


Walking through Mexico City with Claudio Valdes Kuri (right).  
Video still courtesy of Robert Douglas.

1. Think small in scale but optimal in effect.

Claudio suggested that I boil my visions down to their most essential cores.  He then encouraged me to think about how I can fully express these ideas and feelings in the smallest scale possible, making them easier to fund and bring to reality.  This would then make the work easier to tour and more feasible to presenters.  His suggestion was to establish my reputation and relationship with presenters first, and then the ability to approach them with big visions will surely follow.


Claudio, seated in the center, speaks to the all male cast for La Vida Es Sueño. 
Photo: Prumsodun Ok

2. Leaders bring and hold people together—not money.

During my time in Mexico City, I had the privilege of choreographing a small segment for Claudio’s newest project, La Vida Es Sueño. He brought a dynamic cast of actors together for the project, working with them without any pay for over a year.  The artists, trusting and believing in Claudio’s vision, committed themselves to the journey of realizing his work.

Additionally, Claudio invited guest artists such as Mexican butoh pioneer Diego Piñón, movement coach Ruby Tagle, and musicians to work with the actors.  The latter became singers, musicians, and dancers in the highly explorative process of realizing La Vida Es Sueño.  I can’t help but imagine how much the project gave them access to new vocabularies, cultures, approaches, and communities. 

There was no money involved but certainly an exchange of value occurred between Claudio and the artists.

3. Balance art and business.

Having recognized the power of the gift economy in the creative process, Claudio also told me that I need to be more sensible about business.  We must be able to take care of ourselves in order to thrive.  That feeling of thriving, of abundance, no matter how much we have, is what makes our creative practice and existence regenerative as opposed to a rat race that will ultimately burn us into the ground.

For those who are anti-business, it might help to look at the situation in another manner.  Imagine your most beautiful life.  For me, it means being able to take care of the people that I love and myself in the fullest manner possible.  It means having a great place to live and being able to explore and share myself with the world.  It means not having to depend on grants to realize my work.  It means building schools and art centers.  It means not working an odd job to sustain my livelihood because my art feeds me and the more that I nurture it and refine it, the more it will feed and nurture and refine me. 

Balancing art and business might just be a matter of finding a way to make your artmaking give you a certain independence from the pressures of society.


Posing one of Claudio’s actors for a promotional photo. 
Photo courtesy of Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes.

4. Don’t get pigeonholed.

After a dress rehearsal, on one of our many walks through the city, Claudio wanted to talk to me about something that seemed especially sensitive.  Although he recognized the importance of my experience and work—which often uses the expression of love, desire, and sexuality as a gesture of protest and celebration—he also didn’t want me to be thrown into a limiting box.  He told me that as an artist I had a message that was bigger than Cambodia, bigger than queer, a gift that can speak to all of humanity.  He expressed the need to share my work with more communities and to recognize my place and the place of my work in the largest world possible as I continue to grow.

5. Surround yourself amongst people who believe in you.

Again, on one of our many walks through the city, Claudio told me that he would do anything he could to support my growth as an artist.  It was so inspiring and heartwarming to hear.  And I told him that I would do the same.  I really meant it.

It’s easy for us as artists to get lost in our own minds and especially so in the geography of Los Angeles where miles upon miles of concrete streets separate us.  Claudio emphasized the need to have people, artists or not, talking to me about the ideas and experiences animating my work and the importance of maintaining relationships with these people.

These relationships can be nurtured through dinners, walks, in the studio and more.  And in distance it can happen through email, phone, Skype and beyond.  Knowing that I have the good wishes and belief of Claudio is energizing; it is like a secret source of power that I carry with me in my day-to-day, while teaching, and when performing on stage.  I can’t tell you enough how amazing it feels when two artists sincerely commit themselves to the well-being and success of one another.

•••••

A lot has come about for me as a result of my NET/TEN Travel Grant.  It connected me to many new friends and colleagues and now one of Claudio’s actors is collaborating with me as a writer to develop my current project, Beloved.  Funding permitted, I will premiere this project in Mexico City in November; I owe this to Claudio who organized for me to do a lecture demonstration and share my work during my time there.  Although we are both busy—Claudio with performances of La Vida Es Sueño and myself with choreography—we still keep in touch by email, Skype, and messages.  Claudio has even expressed his desire to collaborate fully with me on a project.  Though neither of us knows when this will happen, it is clear that the NET/TEN Travel Grant opened a whole new world for me as an artist.  And, with the belief that home is found in the people you love and care for, Mexico City has become another home for me.

Thank you NET!

-Prumsodun Ok
 

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Prumsodun Ok - prumsodun.ok@gmail.com
 

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Posted by: 
Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thanks for sharing, Prum! The point about working in a small scale is great advice!

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