Connecting with people, building relationships, it’s not a unique thing, but it should be highlighted when it’s done well. It’s a difficult thing to define, it’s even harder to measure and trying to describe it can often plunge us into a world of clichés which is something that’s to be avoided at all cost if we’re artistically ‘worth our salt’. It’s also a very difficult thing to consider – the time it takes for an “inkling” to become a good thing. We’re living in a very fast age, where everyone expects something to happen now. We’re not living in a time where the “simmer” is widely respected or even knows how to be used well. This brings us to Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច … where Artback NT’s Performing Arts Manager, Liz Rogers spoke with Aaron Lim, Erak Mith and Nick Power whilst on the road during the Northern Territory leg of the tour prior to joining them as Tour Manager in Europe.
“The show was not quick to make – it happened over a couple of years” says Aaron Lim, dancer from ‘Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច’. “Britt Guy wanted to get our two crews to meet. Tiny Toones from Phnom Penh came to Darwin and experienced hip-hop here with my crew, the D*City Rockers, then we went over to Phnom Penh in Cambodia and spent time and danced with them there.”
Independent NT Creative Producer, Britt Guy, of Creative ACCOMPLICE conceived the project during her Asialink Residency at Tiny Toones – a creative youth outreach organisation. She was invested in creating opportunities for exchange and learning for Darwin artists with their neighbours in South East Asia. ‘Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច’ grew out of four years of creative exchange designed and facilitated by Britt, in partnership with mentors Nick Power, a Sydney-based dancer and choreographer who has a long-time history and connection with Tracks Dance and the Northern Territory and KK (Tuy Sobil) founder of Tiny Toones, dancer and community activist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“Making a show was never the original idea, it was just about meeting and connecting through dance” says Nick Power. “But, an idea became clearer and clearer the more I worked with Aaron and Erak in particular. They were willing to try anything – to do weird stuff that the other dancers weren’t so interested in, you know, the repetitive contemporary dance stuff that’s way outside how the hip hop world operates. We were really able to explore their styles and their relationship through dance by doing that.” It became apparent that while Aaron and Erak had skills, they also had the drive to try new things, and they had formed a strong bond together over that time.
‘Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច’ is a dance show with a very clear story-line. It is biographical. It’s a work about the relationship specifically between Aaron and Erak; from the challenge in two b*boys meeting, through to their understanding of each other from their cultural differences to their connections as dancers. This show is their show and this work will only perform and tour as long as Erak and Aaron are committed to it.
Erak, trained in traditional Cambodian dance, merges some of his hip hop style with the classical Khmer dance, and Aaron with his background in martial arts, brings some of that flavour to his breaking, too. Everything in the show blends their two worlds. The sound design, created by Jack Prest, is captivating with pulsing beats and natural sounds that cross the worlds of the Northern Territory and Cambodia. It’s such a wonderful and unique design that audiences often want to know where they can buy it.
There is a moment in the performance where there is silence, ostensibly their ‘rest’ period where they get to drink some water after an intense 20 minutes of dance ‘confrontation’. It’s in this moment, with Aaron lying on the floor, that Erak sings a song to him in Khmer. In the silence it’s almost jarring. What starts as just a song, becomes the next ‘game’ for the two. “What’s the song that you sing?” someone asks at nearly every post-show Q&A. The song is a Khmer nursery rhyme. “It’s used when you see a kid that’s doing something, like homework, but they’re leaning over,” explains Erak, hunching “It’s telling the kid to sit up straight, to stand tall.”
‘Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច’, conceived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Darwin, Australia, has since travelled to Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Penang, Vienna, Budapest and Berlin before returning to the Northern Territory in July 2019 to tour with Artback NT. From tiny communities in Ramingining, Milingimbi, Galiwin’ku, Umbakumba, Yirrkala, to the larger town of Katherine and the Desert Harmony Festival in Tennant Creek, it connected once again with its home before it flew off overseas in August to Noorderzon Festival in Groningen, Netherlands and then Tanzhaus in Dusseldorf.
Hip Hop battle, Tanzhaus, Dusseldorf featuring Erak Mith. Videographer: Liz Rogers
“This show is loved everywhere, but no one has responded to it like the NT audiences have! I have been so pumped for the NT tour” exclaims Nick. “This show is designed for the audience to stand around the circular stage like we’ve created a cypher [the name of the circle that is formed around dancing, and particularly breaking] for our audience to also give their energy to the performers. It’s a two person dance show, and they don’t stop moving for 40 minutes! It’s huge. NT audiences are so giving – you know when they’re loving something, and their energy really boosts the guys, too!”
Finding people you connect with, and being able to communicate, experiment together, and trust each other is one of the most marketable skills of those that work in the arts. ‘Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច’ is a work that so beautifully demonstrates what can be done by artists, through art, to gently remove barriers with language and culture, to create something unique and beautiful – that can be understood by everyone who sees it. Why else would a work created by artists from Darwin and Phnom Penh have such international appeal? In an age where the media portrays differences to be something to be feared, the arts find ways to show that differences must be celebrated, and our similarities help us to identify them.
As Aaron Lim says “Never before has an independent dance work from the NT had an opportunity to travel this far!”
Hip Hop battle, Tanzhaus, Dusseldorf featuring Aaron Lim. Videographer: Liz Rogers