Tempestuous adaptation

Bangkok Post, Local - Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Dance greats stage cross-cultural version of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'
A whirlwind cross-cultural collaboration of frenzied energy, abstract artistry and soulful spirit hits the Thailand Cultural Centre (TCC) January 14 with the dance-world institution Marcia Haydee and renowned dance artist Ismael Ivo.

Haydee's presence here can only be likened to receiving a revered religious figure as she is one of the most influential and venerated figures in performing arts today. She is in Bangkok to choreograph, rehearse and coach Thai dancers for what will be a collaboration in contemporary Thai dance _ an exciting, brand new dance adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Tempest.

'It has always been a dream of mine to come to Thailand to work with Thai artists. From the very first moment here, I felt very positive about this experience,' she said.

Ivo echoed her sentiment saying he has relished every moment of this collaboration with Vararom Patchimsavat's Dance Center School of Performing Arts in Thailand.

'I can see that the dancers here are hungry for the new challenges, new ideas, new materials that I have been giving them _ and that gives me great pleasure,' said the distinguished choreographer, dancer and theatre director.

'Choreography to me is about taking human bodies and transforming them into instruments of creative expression. Some people say that I transform my dancers into 'monsters',' Ivo joked. They don't become garish ghouls, however, but rather, organic vehicles capable of exceeding seemingly normal human limits to express something larger than themselves.

Ivo is known for his ruthless demands and yet extraordinary powers of inspiration. Dancers working with him transcend their normal limits in the creation of great art.

Despite the lack of time (only 25 days of rehearsal as opposed to the norm of at least two to three months), Ivo and the equally dazzling Christina Perera, who accompanies him as rehearsal director, are optimistic about the end result.

One Thai dancer who never ceases to impress Ivo, Haydee, and others is Pichet Klunchuen. Through countless invitations to perform all over the globe, Pichet has become a renowned soloist.

'Pichet is one of the great talents; he is truly very special,' said Haydee of the Thai classically trained dancer turned contemporary performer and choreographer. Pichet choreographs his own part in The Tempest and even contributes to the artistic direction of some scenes.

As the phantasmagoric Ariel, Pichet 'never stops moving, even if it's only with the fingers, because Ariel represents the force, energy and dynamism that fuels the spirit,' he explained.

Haydee does yoga daily and works through a long day of coaching the dancers before rehearsing her own lead role as Prospero, the king with mystical powers who has conquered the island of Taliban. Vararom, pending recovery of an injured ankle from a rehearsal accident, will portray Miranda.

Although individual dancers have been designated roles, the entire piece resembles more of an abstract evocation of The Tempest rather than a literal portrayal. Don't expect a 'story ballet' rendition with period costumes and pretty choreography. Instead, Ivo has conceived 'a surrealistic vision inspired by magical realism' of the original Shakespeare text. It is a turbulent, forceful and often emotional ride through Shakespeare's original storm. This production will challenge viewers as well as it challenges the dancers with expressive, powerful and abstract choreography.

Ivo has found a personal connection to his Brazilian roots through the unlikely tale.

'Shakespeare wrote The Tempest right around the time that Brazil was discovered, and it has been argued that the island _ this magical, mystical paradise of the unknown _ could very well be inspired by the notion of Brazil or South America ... the exotic unknown,' said Ivo.

To create the impression of this quixotic tropical realm, set designer Marcel Kaskeline will morph the TCC stage into a lush mythical rainforest filled with water, green 'membrane' walls and fantastic lighting.

'It is more an abstract impression of a rainforest. I want to create an emotional statement rather than a literal set-up,' explained Kaskeline, who hopes to transform the orchestra pit into a splendid pool of water. 'I want to create this sensation of things magically appearing and disappearing through the membrane walls,' he explained.

Like the choreography and the very nature of the collaboration, the sets connote a sense of timelessness and universality that transcends any one particular culture. This theme of surpassing cultural distinctions is also strongly communicated by Steve Shenan's original score.

The distinguished American composer received a long distance call from Ivo days after the rehearsal process had begun. 'I took the next flight [to Bangkok] from Paris where I live and work, and here I am trying to create the entire music for the piece,' Steve recalled.

In combining Western sounds with traditional Javanese instruments, the Thai khong wong (traditional percussion instrument) and even animal noises, Steve's composition escapes any easy categorisation by genre. 'I wanted to create something more timeless and yet rooted in nature _ to bring back human beings' innate relationship with the natural world, and their natural feelings.'

Here he alludes to another prominent theme in the play: raw human nature and its inherent struggles.

With so many different nationalities and languages coming together, it is nothing short of miraculous to see the collaboration evolve into a production.

'After years of experience, a dancer no longer 'dances'; that is, he or she no longer performs a series of steps or technical feats but rather tells a story with his or her body,' Pichet said.

'All bodies are capable of telling stories, of expressing. That is how Ismael and I can communicate during our scenes together despite coming from completely different cultural and artistic backgrounds.'

Herein lies the beauty and magic of art: its powers to transcend any artificial barriers, to connect humanity and to inspire all. The connection of body language is so strong that Haydee already has visions of the powerful duo on stage together in another collaboration.

Despite certain difficulties and obstacles of this production (miscommunication, disorganisation and a few ill-fated injuries to name a few), Ivo and Haydee have high hopes for the future of Thai dance. 'This is my first time in Thailand but I definitely hope it will not be the last,' said Ivo, who relates to the Thai culture's close ties to religion and spirit.

'I will come back here any time,' promised Haydee, who believes that for the Thai dance scene, 'there will always be a bright future.'

- The Tempest will be staged January 14 at 7:30pm at the Thailand Cultural Centre. Tickets at 2,500, 2,000, 1,500, 1,000 and 500 baht are available through www.thaiticketmaster.com, or call Thai ticketmaster on 02-204-9999 or the Dance Center on 02-259-8861.