Fred Frumberg has led an artistically gilded life. His star gigs have included seven years as assistant director to avant-garde theatre guru Peter Sellars and three years as head of stage management at the Paris Opera.

But it’s his recent experiences in Cambodia that he is clearly most passionate about.

It was the Paris Opera itself that chased me in that direction, he explains.

It was just all a bit too big -“ not that I couldn’t handle it: it was a fantastic job, it was challenging, it was Paris. But suddenly I was in this opera factory cranking out these huge productions on a daily basis and that is just not what I felt I was meant to do, he says.

I just wanted to go somewhere for a year and have a karmic cleansing after having maybe taken the wrong path for a while, Frumberg says.

He went to Cambodia as a Peace Corps volunteer intending to stay a year and help out with the revival of traditional theatre, which had been almost annihilated during the Khmer Rouge regime.

After about two weeks I realised the audacity on my part thinking I was going to walk in there as the heroic westerner, he recalls.

I was really slapped into reality pretty quickly and thought, well, either just be a tourist and get out of here before I make things worse or else just hang out for a while.

That was eight years ago. Now Frumberg has formed a production company that assists the production and touring of Cambodian dance and theatre. Weyreap’s Battle will be one of the star attractions during the opening of next week’s Melbourne Festival. He says the all-male masked production combines the best of Cambodian performing arts and tells a classic mythological story about the battle between good and evil.

It combines the dignity of the classical court form which is usually danced by women but the male version is more theatrical. It has the Cambodian classical music and it has narration and tells very vivid stories, Frumberg explains.

Watching the Cambodians who have come out of decades of civil war and seeing that they find reviving their dance and theatre as important as building new roads and hospitals, that is just so inspiring, he says.

Weyreap’s Battle premieres as part of the Melbourne Festival 6-8 October. For more information visit the Melbourne Festival website.

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