Thavro Phim entered Cambodia’s School of Fine Arts (re-named Royal University of Fine Arts in 1993), in part because he is from a long line of prominent Cambodian artists. His great-uncle Hang Tun Hak, Rector of the Royal University of Fine Arts, oversaw the royal dance in the mid-20th century and was, at one point, the country’s prime minister; he is still to this day the most respected playwright in Cambodia, called “the Cambodian Moliere.” Thavro’s great-great uncle, Sang Sarun, was the country’s most famous lakhon bassac (folk opera) star, and his father, Phim Chhieng, was among the first Cambodian musicians to study in China and was one of the founders of the Royal University of Fine Arts.
Thavro became a member of the dance faculty of the University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, after graduating with a major in dance. He taught classical and folk dance and performed abroad with the school’s troupe. Part of the first post-war/post-revolution generation in Cambodia to study traditional dance, he and his peers used to cross the Cambodian countryside, performing as part of the government’s plan to capture the hearts of its impoverished and war-weary populace, and to offer them a sense of continuity and history through old mytho-historical dramas, comic interplay, and folk dances. Thavro also performed in the U.S., at the Kennedy Center, the Joyce Theater in New York, Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, and elsewhere. Since relocating to the U.S. in 1994, Thavro has taught and performed in numerous places, including San José, California, where he started a class for boys in both the “monkey” role in Cambodian dance and chhayam, comic improvised dance and drumming.
He is one of only three professionally-trained Cambodian dancers specializing in the monkey role living in this country. He also was a member of a (Western) modern dance company in Hawai’i, and received a scholarship to the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina for the study of modern dance. He moved to Philadelphia in December 2001. He was one of PFP’s artists in residence in 2006.
Dancing the Monkey Role (PDF). By Thavro Phim in WIP Volume 19:1/2