The last six weeks have involved me being part of the Four Footed Doctor project; a collaboration between Westside Circus and Epic Arts.
The Four Footed Doctor is a traditional Khmer story, telling of a baby, born to a rich family, and with no legs. So the rich man orders the maid to take the baby in a cooking pot to the river. The maid reluctantly does so. The river is gentle with the pot and the baby is found by a very wise man. At the same time, the maid, riddled with guilt has chased along the river bank, and she reaches the pot just after the wise man (or Brahman). And so, unsure of how to get to the baby that she so dearly loves, she decides to offer her services to the wise man, who is delighted, not only does he have a new son but he has a free maid too. He names him Komphak Komar.
The three of them live happily for 8 years, until the maid cannot keep the secret any longer. She tells the Komphak Komar the truth. He is distraught.
The wise man orders him to stop and teaches him everything he knows. Komphak Komar becomes the wisest doctor in all the land. The King hears of his success and provides him with two carriers, and so he became The Four Footed Doctor, and was now able to cure the sick all across the land.
Remember the Rich Man? Well he got very sick. And he ordered for the Four Footed Doctor to come to his rescue. However the maid refused, possibly of fear of recognition from all those years ago. After many attempts the Rich Man offered all of his worldly goods in exchange for the doctors visit. So they agreed.
The Four Footed Doctor cured the Rich man, and in return, received the Rich Man’s wealth. However, the maid could not live keeping another secret and told everyone the truth. That this was his parents and brothers, and that she was the maid that put the pot on the river.
As in all folk stories, they reconcile and live happily ever after.
The story is about forgiveness, reconciliation, family and perseverance.
“Always remember that achievement and respect come not from arms or legs or parents or relatives, but from perseverance and hard work”.
We had director Sue Broadway, myself as choreographer, and a Khmer Acrobat coach. It was amazing to have three people working on the project, and to be able to bounce ideas of people and see different ways in which each other worked. I also got a chance to attempt (emphasis on attempt!!!!) acrobatics too! Great fun.
The show is a 45 minute piece, using three languages (Khmer, English and sign). It has a puppet to symbolise young Komphak Komar and uses shadow puppetry with a lit screen.
I’ve never worked with so many different elements before and it was such a useful learning experience. Many of these elements are really great for family audiences, something I feel contemporary dance sometimes lacks, so these are very useful to know a little bit about!