Published on August 14, 2007
Dance and theatre aficionados are in for a treat this week. "Live Arts Bangkok" is the inaugural performance arts festival hosted by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation's Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts - Seameo Spafa for short.
The event is being staged at two historic venues, MR Kukrit Pramoj House and the Siam Society, and features acclaimed local and regional dance and theatre artists from nine Asian countries.
Another piece of good news: admission is free - call Spafa now to reserve your seats.
"'Live Arts' is one in a series of Spafa's regular events for 2007," says research and development officer Tang Fu Kuen, who initiated and is organising the event.
"The funding is mostly from Spafa, but we are also in active partnership with the Kukrit Pramoj House Fund and Siam Society, both of whom we have identified as like-minds with common goals for the project.
"We are also receiving support from Japan's Saison Foundation and the Asahi Beer Arts Foundation."
Those goals are first, to regenerate and mobilise heritage spaces and the arts; second, to present some of the best regional artists in the performing arts today; and lastly, to educate and increase appreciation and knowledge of traditional art forms and contemporary expressions.
Observing the contemporary trends of international performing arts, "Live Arts" is a performance festival, rather than a dance, theatre and music festival, Tang explains.
"'Performance' is the preferred term these days, as many art forms have become so hybrid that 'dance', 'theatre', and 'music' seem too narrow as categories. In contemporary times, all art forms cross borders and reinforce each other, so that both message and style can be effectively and vibrantly conveyed. As audiences today, we can't think in boxes any more. We must be more open to experiments.
"After seeing all sorts of performances in the region, I've selected the participating artists for their adventurous yet sophisticated qualities. They all share a common trait: a passion for tradition and a rigorous desire to take convention a step further.
"I would say that all the performances are uniformly fabulous. We have five shows making their [world] premiere - this is exciting. We've also set up collaborations between artists from different countries - this is an open laboratory."
The list of performing artists along with brief synopses of their work below firmly supports his statement.
At MR Kukrit Pramoj House on Thursday, Cambodian classical mask dancer Phon Sopheap will perform "A Monkey's Mask". Previously seen at the Indonesia Dance Festival and Singapore Arts Mart, the audience follows a monkey's journey to the point where the simian ends and man emerges, a moment when both become one.
Then, Pichet Klunchun's new work "Pichet's Code" will explore Thai classical dance for its hidden messages for communication, conservation and development. This involves motifs like the triangle, square, circle, art, life and nature.
Burma's Tin Maung Kyi is a retired medical doctor who has revived the traditional Burmese marionettes. In "Zaw Gyi", this Spafa senior researcher will make the legendary alchemist of Burmese folk art fly, soar and spin.
Papua-born dancer and choreographer Jecko Siompo will perform "Tikus Tikus", a duet of sharp relations in which rhythmical steps from Papua folk and tribal dance mesh with the pedestrian motions of daily life.
Contemporary Thai theatre's funniest solo performer, Wannasak "Kuck" Sirilar, collaborates with Hong Kong's Dick Wong in "Encounter #1". Their act asks how getting to know a person of a different culture in a limited period of time will pan out, as a debate, a sex date, a game of mutual manipulation, a clash of egos, a constructive dialogue, a love-hate story, or simply a casual encounter? The many fans who have admired Kuck's performances for years may already know the answer.
Sopheap will take the monkey to Siam Society on Friday, also the day and venue for Filipino contemporary dancer Donna Miranda's performance of "Beneath Polka-Dotted Skies". The latter describes the fear, anxiety, frustration and strange sense of abandon we experience in thinking about the journey of life.
Japan's Zan Yamashita teams up with Thongchai Hannarong, the founder of Komonlagoon Dance Company, in "Cough". "One day, I stood calmly and looked at myself from far away in the rehearsal space," reads the synopsis. "I noticed myself breathing. Breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, and a cough came out".
Singapore's cutting-edge performance troupe Spell #7's presents "Tree Duet", asking whether trees move because the wind blows, or the wind blows because trees are there to be moved.
Back at MR Kukrit Pramoj House, on Saturday Siompo will reprise his dance, and Kuck and Wong will again take the stage.
In "Silent Fly", Cambodian classical and contemporary dancer, choreographer and modern theatre actress Hun Pen partners with Malaysian Bharata Natyam and Odissi dancer January Low.
Then, Malaysian shadow puppeteer Fahmi Fadzil will perform "Wayang Buku", asking "If books could talk, what would they tell us?"
Although "Live Arts Bangkok" is a first for Spafa, it won't be a one-off.
Says Tang, "We have several arts and heritage presenters and festival directors coming from abroad to witness this event. Spafa's hope is to continue partnering with various agencies in Southeast Asia and beyond to stage 'Live Art' on a regular basis."
The Thursday programme at MR Kukrit Pramoj House is by invitation only. All other shows are open to the public and start at 7pm. Seats are limited. Call Soros at (02) 280 4022 for reservations. For information, visit www.seameo-spafa.org.
The writer can be contacted at Pawit.M@chula.ac.th.