• Pichet Klunchun performs "The Bathing Ceremony of Phya Chattan".

Fellowship of the elephant

Art June 12, 2017 01:00

By PAWIT MAHASARINAND
SPECIAL TO THE NATION

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Internationally renowned Thai dancer Pichet Klunchun opens his new playhouse with a revival of his solo work



LAST YEAR, when Pichet Klunchun was trying to bring his company’s largest work “Dancing with Death” to a commercial playhouse in Bangkok, he started a crowdfunding bid online. That didn’t work out and as a result Thai audiences have not had the chance to watch this work, which has been to Japan, Singapore and Australia and will soon be in Taiwan.

Always a pioneer and a rebel, Pichet has a new theatre, large enough to house it, built next to his house and studio in Thung Khru, Thon Buri.

 

Boasting the same name as his first studio in Soi Nai Lert more than a decade ago, Chang Theatre is fully equipped medium-sized white box theatre and officially opened two weeks ago with a revival of his solo work “The Bathing Ceremony of Phya Chattan”. He didn’t ask for his audience to pitch in for the construction cost of the theatre though; instead, he asked 240 spectators to purchase tickets to the first three shows of “Phya Chattan” way in advance – and they’re sold out in a snap. These supporters, or patrons, will also get part of the profit for the future performances of this work over the next two years. This again underlines how a nationally and internationally recognised artist like Pichet continues to struggle from the lack of support from our Ministry of Culture, both in his career and more specifically in the creation of work. On the brighter side, his strategy is working very effectively as tickets to the following shows, for a regular audience, were also snapped up and an extra show was added.

 

And while Pichet Klunchun Dance Company is, of course, in residence at this new theatre, the artistic director makes sure that the doors are always open to works by other artists as well. He recently put out an open call for projects to be developed and presented there and a few have already been selected. Notwithstanding its distance from the city centre and major public transportation, Chang Theatre, with its flexible space and many possibilities that artist can explore, has already become a major venue and a breeding ground for contemporary Thai performing arts.

On that Sunday evening in late May, a small slip of paper was inserted into the programme leaflet, saying: “Today’s episode: the journey of Phya Chattan’s state of mind”. The Silpathorn Award smartly chose not to just recount the story of Phya Chattan, which we already knew or could read a synopsis of in the programme leaflet.

 

Amidst an almost monotonous soundscape. The audience experienced Pichet’s unique performance, far different from other forms of dramatic arts we experience on a daily basis, on a vast white stage, almost bare except for a tree, in front of an arrestingly beautiful backdrop painted in traditional Thai style. Aesthetically uncompromising, as it offered few physical movements or dramatic action, the 50-minute performance tested both our concentration and patience, and many members of the audience resorted to a short nap here and there.

I’d taken the precaution of dosing up on caffeine but the experience was like listening to Buddhist sermons, in Pali, and the mind couldn’t help wandering away from the performance onstage. The post-show dialogue, though, made sure the audience went home with some food for thought, although I don’t expect any souls to be purified after watching it.

“Phya Chattan” will soon travel to other venues, and my instincts tell me the work will probably attract more international producers and presenters, who might love its classical contemporary look and underlying Buddhist messages, than his compatriots here.

THE PACHYDERM’S TREK

- The next performance of “The Bathing Ceremony of Phya Chattan” is on June 24 in Ban Kut Peng, Maha Sarakham province.

- For ticket reservation and details, visit Facebook.com/PKLifeWork