Two performances confirm that contemporary dance is more accessible, and diverse, than one might think
WHILE IT’S difficult to figure out what the show will look like and how much fun it actually is, from the PR materials of Jerome Bel’s “Gala”, performed here recently as part of the French Embassy’s “French Highlights #3”, most members of the audience at the Chang Theatre last Wednesday would probably agree that this conceptual dance work is indeed a special treat. And unlike many dance programmes for which the audience needs to have knowledge to judge the performers’ technical merits, “Gala” is for anyone who enjoys dancing.
The word “conceptual” usually scares people away – indeed, Thais sometimes joke that it’s “concept shua” or “bad concept” when only the artist and not the audience understands the concept, and not the audience – but that’s not the case with “Gala”. The piece delivers its concept –and entertainment –thanks in part to the work’s nature that leaves room for the local performers’ creative input – and the choreography and the music are certainly not forced on them by the French creative team.
The cast, from the very young to the very old, of 15 comprises professional dancers, ex-dancers and people with whom we don’t usually associate the word “dance”. Juxtaposing solo performances with group ones in different genres that range from Michael Jackson’s moonwalking, waltz, classical ballet, street dance, classical Thai dance, khon, rhythmic gymnastics, and so on, “Gala” began with the projection of images of theatres, ranging from proper, elegant and historic ones to a few rows of chairs surrounding a performance space in a park.
The work questions what’s stageworthy and not, and whether performing arts is only for people who have special talents and skills or if anyone can enjoy it. And that’s truly relevant for our country where the number of talent competitions and shows on TV and in department stores continue to rise.
The weekend before, Pichet and Bel restaged “Pichet Klunchun and Myself,” their most successful work, which has been seen around the globe since premiering at Bangkok Fringe Festival 2004 at Patravadi Theatre.
While this is a strong example of French-Thai artistic collaboration and cultural exchange, which we’ve been told is a current direction of “French Highlights” – La Fete as it was formerly known –the performance is not part of the current “French Highlights”.
Thanks to substantial support from the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC), the show was free. That said, this could be a problem for those who are willing to pay but fail to book tickets in time as freebies usually fly off very quickly. And while we see works that are supported, either fully partly, by the culture ministries of other countries where admission is charged, their Thai counterpart does the opposite, citing as the reason that the support comes from taxpayers’ money. Many people are wondering if this policy needs to be revised.
For those who haven’t seen any of their works and can understand English, this dance dialogue is still a good introduction to the life and works of these two internationally renowned choreographers who have a lot in common as well as differences. For example, those who returned for “Gala” a few evenings later would enjoy it tremendously. On the other hand, those who have seen Pichet’s other works may already be too familiar with his opinions and his messages in “Pichet Klunchun and Myself” will probably sound repetitive. Also, as Pichet and Bel have known each other for more than 13 years now, it’s more and more difficult to convince the audience that they’ve just met for the first time as acted out in this seminal work.
And in a rare case for contemporary performance in Thailand, each member of the audience received a booklet with the theatre’s programme for the year at the ticket counter of both shows.
So now we can mark our calendars and plan our visits to this theatre in Thon Buri.
Pichet Klunchun Dance Company’s “Nijinsky Siam” is on April 20-22 and 27-29. Thanks to the strong support from OCAC, it’s free admission.
“Black and White” and “The Gentlemen” by the same company are coming in June and November respectively.
Not yet scheduled, but we know and hope that it’s some time this year, is their new work “About Kazuo Ono”.
Find out more at www.ChangTheatre.com.
Find about more about the French dance maker at www.JeromeBel.fr (in French and English).
As part of “French Highlights #3”, the “Ephemeral” exhibition by French expat painter Sylvie Coevoet and photographer Stephanie Noto is ongoing at Alliance Francaise Bangkok until March 29. For more, www.French-Highlights.com