A tempest of dance

The Nation - Thursday, January 22, 2004

Does the fact that Thai performers are being invited to collaborate abroad mean we’re ready for the world? With three major dance productions – “I-Tap-Paj-Ja-Ya-Ta”, “Pla-Boo-Thong” (“The Golden Fish”) and “The Tempest” – scheduled head-to-head at three venues in the span of six days, Bangkok seems to be hosting its very own festival of dance in the first fortnight of 2004.

 Whether it means a strong beginning to a better year or that we won’t have any dance performances for the next few months is yet to be seen.

In the meantime, these performances show that this country has many good professional dancers; some of whom can even be classified as world-class. What Thailand lacks, unfortunately, is a truly professional company where they can regularly and continuously work altogether.

It’s similar to what has happened in sports: our team efforts usually fall short at the regional stage while our solo athletes excel in the world arena. I

n the year’s second weekend, at the Small Hall of the Thailand Cultural Centre, Pichet Klunchun led his friends and students from the recently founded Life Work Company in a post-modern attempt to explain a complex yet crucial truth of life – “There are Motifs and Elements for Everything, as There are Those for Nothing”, or “I-Tap-Paj-Ja-Ya-Ta”.

In a pre-show interview, Pichet said the audience would not understand the idea while watching his performance, but it will probably occur to them one day. And that was exactly what we experienced from this 70-minute non-narrative performance, loosely-based on Paulo Coelho’s “Veronika Decides to Die”.

In all his movements, Pichet showed why he is one of the most sought-after dancers in the world of dance theatre. Nevertheless, he had little support from his company members in their teens and 20s, some of whom could not overcome their stage fright on opening night. Clearly, months of practice should have been put in before such a debut. Thus, the best part was when he soloed to Sinnapa Sarasas’s exuberant rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”.

 Five days later at the Main Hall of the cultural centre, Brazilian-born and Germany-based dancers/choreographers Marcia Haydee and Ismael Ivo led 25 dancers from the Dance Centre’s Company of the Performing Artists (Thailand) in a post-modern dance theatre inspired by William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.

In this adaptation, Prospero was bleaker, and instead of realising that the greatest revenge of all is to forgive and that the best control is to grant freedom, his discovery only came when his daughter Miranda drowned herself – a major alteration to the original. As the absolute controller, Marcia Haydee’s stage presence was chilling.

However, someone might need to redesign her magic wand, as it looked more like a fishing rod. Maybe that’s why her magic was not strongly felt.

Moreover, her entrance, on a wheeled scaffolding, reminded audiences of “River of Kings III”.

A major letdown was the chorus dancers. Despite intense rehearsals in the past month they were not unified as an ensemble. Each is a talented individual, but as whole they don’t work as a professional company yet.

One of the country’s grand dames of classical ballet, Vararom Pachimsawat projected Miranda’s youthful passion from her entrance. She showed her extraordinary agility, in spite of an injury suffered in a recent rehearsal.

The highlight of the evening was the Caliban-Ariel duet, in which Ivo and guest dancer Pichet Klunchun were both vigorous. Their diverse movements, rooted in extremely different backgrounds, could effectively communicate with each other, and to the audience, as though they had been performing together for a long time.

Deservedly, at curtain call, both artists received thunderous applause. Word has it that Ivo has invited Pichet back to collaborate with him later this year in Germany. So we still believe Bangkok is becoming an Asian hub for arts and culture, don’t we?

“I-Tap-Paj-Ja-Ya-Ta” will be performed for the last time this Saturday at 2pm and 7.30pm, and on Sunday at 2pm, at the Kad Theatre in Chiang Mai.

Tickets are Bt400 and Bt600 and will be available at the door. Children under 12 will be admitted to all shows for free in a move to promote dance education among youth. For reservations call (09) 811 6025. For more info on this international solo artist, log on to www.pklifework.com.

Also ongoing is “Naked on the Roof: Winter Art Project by House of Indies”, in which experimental dance and theatre are presented every Saturday and Sunday evening from 6pm to 8.30pm, until Valentine’s Day.

The venue, Bangkok’s latest centre for fringe shows, is the rooftop of Prasarnmitr Plaza Building in Soi Sukhumvit 23.

Scheduled for this weekend are three contemporary dance performances by New Dance Theatre, Thailand (NDTT), and a thought provoking modern play entitled “Woman!!!!!!!” Next weekend, check out another Thai dancer with a solid international resume, Peeramon Chomdhavat. Admission is free.

 For more info and reservations, call (02) 664 0399. Let’s get out and take advantage of Bangkok’s last breezes of winter before the summer heat starts over again.

 The writer can be contacted atpawit@chula.com.

Pawit Mahasarinand

The Nation