Long live La Fete

Art May 18, 2015 01:00

By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to

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The annual French-Thai cultural festival is ending its 11-year run, but the spirit of collaboration will continue

We've been hearing the rumours for a while and last Thursday at the French Embassy, Ambassador Thierry Viteau made it official – next month’s annual La Fete will be the last. He also confirmed, though, that the end of the annual French-Thai cultural festival doesn’t mean the end of artistic collaborations between the two countries.
Cultural attache Benoit Etienne adds in a chat with XP, “When we decided to create La Fete 11 years ago, the cultural landscape here was radically different from that of today.
“For visual arts, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre was just beginning and there weren’t many other important galleries. For performing arts, there was no venue like the Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts.
“Our festival has contributed in bringing in French artists and supporting Thai artists to work with them while similarly helping Thai ‘cultural engineers’ [producers and curators] to go to France.
“We then changed the direction to focus more on cooperation. And now, we’ve decided to continue on this track and work hand-in-hand with local operators in various arts genres in organising arts and cultural events here. I think this is more difficult than organising our own festival for one month every year.”
In essence this means La Fete will now be going on year-round, the only exceptions being the annual holidays – July in France, April in Thailand.
This ongoing French-Thai cultural cooperation is already evident. The French Embassy supported the Thai-language production of French playwright Pascal Rambert’s “Cloture de l’amour”, and his first visit to Thailand, last October, in addition to Compagnie A.lter S.essio’s “Extension (-)” and workshop this January after they collaborated with Pichet Klunchun in last year’s La Fete.
Last year, the embassy supported two Thai artists for three-month residencies in Paris, namely photographer Lek Kiatsirikajorn and choreographer Jitti Chompee, and they will showcase their works as part of the final La Fete. Lek’s experimental photography exhibition “Detour of the Ego” begins on June 12 at Bangkok University Gallery in Kluay Nam Thai, while Jitti’s new performance based on Georges Bizet’s “Les Pecheurs de Perlos” (“The Pearl Fishers”) will be at the Rose Hotel on Surawong Road on June 15 and 16.
The French Embassy also supported an exchange programme for two students – Kanjana Chonsiri from Silpakorn University and Alexandre Poisson from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-arts de Paris. An exhibition of the works created during their crossed residencies of three months will open on June 5 at Bridge Cafe and Art Space. 
Another French-Thai collaboration has been supported by the Alliance Francaise Bangkok. It’s an exhibition by French photographer Phillippe Moisan and Thai mixed-media artist Rush Pleansuk titled “Dans la jungle des anges” (“In Angels’ Jungle”) and it opens at AFB on Wireless Road on June 18. 
In sum, with “collaboration” as the keyword, this edition of La Fete comprises more French-Thai collaborations than ever.
In addition, there are, as always, purely French works. These start with the opening concert on June 3 featuring Renaissance music by Doulce Memoire, which will take us back to early 16th century during the reign of King Francis I. Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will preside over the performance at the newly renovated Chulalongkorn University auditorium, which now has fewer seats and more leg room.
Nearby on the same campus, Compagnie 14:20’s “Notte” (“The Night”), pulled out of last year’s festival due to the artist’s injury, is set to show how magic, dance, juggling, music and video art combine into contemporary performance at the Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts on June 13.
The following weekend at the same venue, Pierre Rigal will make his fourth visit to La Fete with “Standards”, in which eight hip hop dancers will use the French national flag in exploring the concept of “living together”.
The last programme this year shows that this is not a farewell, as the annual hip hop battle, joined by the dancers from “Standards”, will be followed by a merry night featuring two female DJs of Go Grrrls. Building on their experience with many editions of La Fete the local co-organiser is planning to take it further and organise a regional hip-hop battle event, which the French Embassy is keen to support.
Some arts lovers will miss La Fete and others are making comparisons to other countries like China and Hong Kong, whose annual French cultural festivals have long been mainstays of the calendar. Responding to that, Etienne quotes a famous French saying “Comparison is not the reason”, explaining “You cannot compare the audience, funding and sponsorship in China and Hong Kong to those in Thailand.”
And of course, mango sticky rice macarons are not available in those countries.
The writer wishes to thank the French embassy’s Napadol Wirakan and Asma Sentira for all assistance.
La Fete runs from June 3 to 20. Many events are free. Ticketed ones cost Bt250 (Bt150 for students and under-25s). Book at www.ThaiTicketMajor.com. 
For more details, check www.LaFete-Bangkok.com or Facebook/lafete.festival.