Hitomi Yamanaka's passion for Khmer culture is apparent as she sits down to a meal of local fare to discuss her study of traditional dance, dating back more than two decades.
“I like this kind of dance which is spiritually influential. When I was young, I had a lot of ailments [which required me to exercise]. This was when I was first drawn to Japanese dance,” she says.
Yamanaka first learned Khmer traditional dance techniques in 1997, before studying the history of dance at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA).
The Tokyo native, who has moved to and fro from the Kingdom to Japan since 2003, introduced her new and innovative performance at her alma mater last week. She plans to embark on performance tours in Japan for two years.
“I have travelled between Japan and Cambodia five times to get more training, and prepare to teach and perform this dance in Japan,” she said.
Reflecting on what initially drew her to the Southeast Asian art form, Yamanaka claimed it gave her more than anything she could get from Japan or the West.
“I was mesmerised by Khmer traditional dance and love it because it has a sense of serenity to it, which made me feel as though I was meditating while dancing.”
After her debut performance at RUFA, Yamanaka will take the dance form back to her native Japan and perform it there in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Yamanaka is sure that her dance would fit in well with other cultural performances taking place during the Games.
“The recent performance can be described as an opportunity for me to contribute to the celebration of the 65th anniversary of friendship and cooperation between Cambodia and Japan,” she says.
She added that the performance encompasses five types of Khmer dance as well as one new creation.
As if to underscore her dedication to cross-cultural exchange, Yamanaka even composed an original song for her performance which is a combination of Khmer and Japanese poems.