• The restaging of "Pichet Klunchun and Myself" was a highlight of "La Fete 2012" at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts.
  • Jerome Bel has worked with many performers and non-performers in cities around the world for "Gala". photo/Bernhard Muller

Double punches at Chang Theatre

Art February 19, 2018 01:00

By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation

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Two internationally acclaimed works are staged over a period of six days



AT THE 2004 edition of Patravadi Theatre’s Bangkok Fringe Festival, Singaporean producer Tang Fu Kuen, the festival director and this work’s dramaturg, introduced French choreographer Jerome Bel to our Pichet Klunchun. Their ensuring dance dialogue “Pichet Klunchun and Myself” was watched by the director of Belgium’s KunstenFestivaldesArts who invited them to Brussels for the work’s international premiere a few months later. The rest fills a whole chapter in the history of not just contemporary Thai dance but also intercultural performance, as this work has been staged more than a hundred times in many cities around the world. 

The restaging of "Pichet Klunchun and Myself" was a highlight of "La Fete 2012" at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts.

 

Praise has been lavish. When the European Cultural Foundation awarded Bel and Pichet Princess Margriet Award for Culture in 2008, the international jury explained, “The piece consisted of a staged conversation between two professional dancer-choreographers with very little in common. This dialogue, despite its seeming simplicity, offered a brave and masterful deconstruction of cultural difference. Bel and Klunchun managed to turn a conversation between two artists into a moving and often hilarious encounter that questioned what is usually taken for granted when two cultures meet.”

Bel himself even noted, “A lot of Western artists say: ‘Let’s unify!’ That’s a mistake. Better to perform the differences.”

When “Pichet Klunchun and Myself” was part of La Fete 2012 at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts and Vic Hua Hin, the word was that it would be the last time the audience would get to watch this seminal work. In her review for The Nation, Jasmine Baker wrote: “Pichet and Bel performed impeccably, having polished the duet since its premiere at the 2004 Bangkok Fringe Festival, and yet they talked as if meeting for the first time. Neither seemed to have any idea what the other would do next. It was as entertaining as it was informative.”

But in the end, like many rumours in this country, it’s not true, and we’ll soon have a chance to enjoy it again at Pichet’s Chang Theatre.

Pichet, whose new collaboration with Lao-French choreographer Ole Kamchanla “Negotiation” just finished its run in Paris last Friday, says: “This work still answers many questions by people both in the East and the West, on interculturalism, the relationship between tradition and contemporaneity as well as how to live among differences. I think it’s a timeless work as both of our answers [in this dance dialogue] remain keys for contemporary people who are questioning their own culture, and others’, in this increasingly multicultural world.”

He continues, “Over the past few years the Thai people have discussed the definition of ‘contemporaneity’ as evidenced in performances, festivals, seminars, and so on, with the word ‘contemporary’ in them. And so I think ‘Pichet Klunchun and Myself’ can share this discussion. Besides, this work can also show an option for those who’re studying classical Thai dance and finding a way to make it relevant in contemporary society.”

Pichet also notes that the content of the performance is more condensed and the running time is down from 130 to 105 minutes.

And since his French colleague is back in town, Pichet is making sure he’s not on beach vacation, like many of his compatriots, but working. 

Jerome Bel has worked with many performers and non-performers in cities around the world for "Gala". photo/Josefina Tommasi

Bel’s 2015 creation “Gala” which has been to London’s Dance Umbrella, Paris’ Festival d’Automne, KunstenFestivaldesArts and Penang’s Georgetown Festival, among many others, is now in rehearsal here in Bangkok, and will be on stage only 48 hours after “Pichet Klunchun and Myself” at the same venue.

With 20 Thai performers and non-performers from all walks of life, “Gala” asks, “How can we bring to the realms of onstage representation individuals and bodies that are all too often excluded from such a possibility? How can we make best use of all the various resources of this unique apparatus, the theatre – with its codes, venues, genres and professionals– in order to enlarge the perimeter of what can be shown in it? And how can we (re)shape it into a democratic means that lies within the grasp of all those drawn to dance, singing and the performing arts?”

The Guardian dance critic Judith Mackrell raved, “The results are haphazard, funny and touching, but entirely individual,” and that “[Gala] 

 bears the stamp of [Bel’s] special genius, both in eliciting so much of his performers’ trust and in winning over his audience.” 

Pichet explains why he, with the support from the French Embassy, is bringing this conceptual dance work to Bangkok, 

“This work is the total opposite to the Thai audience’s myth about stage performance – for example, it needs to be grand-scale, larger-than-life and the performers should be special, in their physicality, capability or even education. This myth has made our stage a kind of holy ground that ordinary people [with some flaws] do not want to set their feet on. We hope that ‘Gala’ will help change the Thai audience’s perspective so that there’s less sense of authoritarianism in which our leaders simply decide what’s good or not.”

As for the casting of non-performers, Pichet doesn’t view it as a trend in contemporary performance; rather, he asks, “Why can Thai stage not feature non-performers? They’re also part of our society. And if you’ve been following Bel’s works [like ‘Disabled Theatre’ at Singapore International Festival of Arts, reviewed here], you’ll see that he’s always interested in equality.”

TWO DATES WITH CONTEMPORANEITY

“Pichet Klunchun and Myself” is on March 3 and 4, 7.30pm. It’s in English with no translation. Tickets are Bt500.

Part of “French Highlights #3”, “Gala” is on March 6 and 7, 7:30pm. Tickets are Bt700.

Chang Theatre is in Soi Pracha-uthit 61, in Thung Khru, Thonburi.

No student discounts are offered for either performance. Book at (099) 213 5639 and (095) 956 9166, or online at www.ChangTheatre.com, where you can also find the whole year’s programme.

Also visit www.JeromeBel.fr (in French and English).