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UK-based Thai youngsters to perform in Bangkok

A performance of khon and Thai classical dance being staged later this month by UK-based Thai youngsters

UK-based Thai youngsters to perform in Bangkok

A performance of khon and Thai classical dance being staged later this month should make for interviewing viewing. Don't expect anything unusual in the programme, though. What makes this show unique is the young performers themselves. All were born or raised from a very young age in the UK and have been trained in the art of traditional Thai performance in London.

This homecoming show is the culmination of many years of dedicated instruction by the Thai Dance Academy, which was founded in 1982.

The driving force behind the academy is Poranee Johnston, a graduate of the Dramatic Arts College in Bangkok.

The school was initially set up to teach Thai children the art of Thai classical dance, with classes held at weekends at the Buddhapradeep Temple in Wimbledon.

A very pleasing side benefit from these classes is the exposure of the children to the finer and subtler points of Thai culture that they may otherwise have little chance of experiencing in British society. The youngsters are taught to wai properly, to bow when walking past elders and also to speak Thai properly, using the correct tones.

For many, this is the only time that they talk extensively and exclusively in Thai, as this is the official school language.

This aspect of the academy has made these students, who are British born and bred, seem at times even more Thai than some of the more privileged Thai students who come as teenagers to the UK for their secondary education.

The academy is a true labour of love, with none of the instructors receiving salaries and only younger and new students paying a nominal fee to join. As the numbers and proficiency have increased, the academy has been able to put on shows, with the objective of increasing awareness, understanding and appreciation of Thai classical dance.

This has allowed the older and more experienced students who take part in these shows, to study for free, with these sessions regarded as rehearsals for the next show.

The high standard of the shows means that the academy is always in demand and it currently gives some 40 performances each year. To attract audiences, only a small fee is charged for the shows and most of the costs for the costumes are borne by a few loyal supporters and by Poranee herself.

The troupe's performance skills first came to the fore in 2001 when "Manora" was staged at London's Bloomsbury Theatre.

The five shows were enthusiastically received and the academy was invited by the then National Cultural Commission, now the Thai Ministry of Culture, to perform in Bangkok in 2002. This marked the first trip to Thailand for the troupe, and also the first ever visit to their motherland by many of the youngsters.

The "Ramakian" khon performance is being reprised as the centrepiece of the Academy's show being staged at Silpakorn University's small auditorium on July 25.

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