“Black and White” strikes a fine balance between the good and the evil, the traditional and the modern. /Photo: Luo YiChun
“Black and White” strikes a fine balance between the good and the evil, the traditional and the modern. /Photo: Luo YiChun

Return of a masterpiece

Art August 20, 2018 01:00

By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation

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This weekend’s performance might be the last time we’ll get to watch the “second milestone” in the Pichet Klunchun Dance Company’s history



CREATED DURING a one-month-residence at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay in Singapore with dramaturg Lim How-Ngean, and premiered as part of “The Durian’s” annual da:ns festival in late 2011, Pichet Klunchun Dance Company’s “Black and White” was inspired by the mural paintings of the “Ramakien”, the Thai version of the Indian epic “Ramayana”. 

Trained in the classical Thai masked dance theatre known as khon, Silpathorn artist Pichet Klunchun notes that there are many patterns of fights between monkeys and demons in those paintings, while there are only four in khon performance. 

“Black and White” strikes a fine balance between the good and the evil, the traditional and the modern./Photo: Thirawat Aungsittipoonporn

As for the catchy title and the work’s content, Pichet, as political as always, also tries to show that sometimes the two opposing sides need to support each other in their fights and that the black and white can occasionally, or even eventually, become grey.

Pichet regards “Black and White” as the second milestone in his company’s history. His solo work “I Am a Demon”, which explains to the international world of dance what khon means for him as much as what he wants to do with it, he considers the first.

After the acclaimed world premiere in the island state about which I wrote that it struck a fine balance between both good and evil and traditional and modern, “Black and White” was seen in the Netherlands and Switzerland. 

The Thailand premiere at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts two years later was also met with critical acclaim.

 Photo/Weerana Talodsuk

Critic Amitha Amranand, a founding member of International Association of Theatre Critics’ (IATC) Thailand Centre, wrote, “We finally got to see Pichet’s choreographic prowess and potential being pushed and explored”. A few months later, the work was championed with IATC Thailand award for the year’s best movement-based performance. 

A work commonly regarded as “groundbreaking modernisation of khon”, “Black and White” is also a study case for Thai dance scholar Sun Tawalwongsri’s master’s degree dissertation at the University of London. 

Photo/ Luo YiChun

In the meantime, the work continued its travels to Belgium and later the Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting (TPAM) in Yokohama as well as Beijing and Shanghai.

Equally memorable as its choreography and messages are the design elements, thanks to an international team made up of Thai mask and costume designer Anuthep Potchprasart, Japanese lighting designer Miura Asako and Chinese composer Wu Na, who’s always present onstage behind her guqin, the seven-stringed ancient instrument.

After all these performances, Pichet notes that there’s one important political message many members of the audience, perhaps being astounded by the choreography and other production elements, have missed, saying with a grin, “The protagonist in the Ramakien is a man; that in ‘Black and White’ a woman. Do you still remember who was our prime minister back then [in late 2011]?”

 Photo/Weerana Talodsuk

The restaging of “Black and White” this weekend – the first time in the company’s home venue Chang Theatre – was originally scheduled for late June, but a member of the company had a motorcycle accident so serious that he cannot walk even now. Pichet recruited a freelance khon dancer to replace him and two months later we’ll finally get to watch it, before it goes on tour soon to a dance festival in South Korea. 

This year, the company is restaging a few works at home so that the audience can see how they have progressed and be ready for their next big move.

Pichet notes, “This work uses very specific techniques based on the ideology of khon and dancers need to have training and a background in khon in order to perform it. This is the company’s old way of working which we’re gradually steering away from and hence this may be the last time we’re staging it.

 Photo/Weerana Talodsuk

“Many dance companies perform in a specific style; we keep progressing. Next year, the audience will see this artistic change in our new works. They’ll no longer require the performers to have khon training. This goes along the same line as that being implemented in such international companies like Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. From the outlook, some audience members might think that these works are no longer connected with khon, but ideologically and spiritually they remain so.”

While Pichet notes that his company members continue to develop and as this will be reflected in a more-refined performance in “Black and White” than in previous outings, he’s taking himself out of the cast. That’s partly because he’d rather the audience focused on the company and their performance than him, an international superstar of contemporary dance.

He adds, “I always encourage our company members to find any possible opportunity to work with and learn from other choreographers to keep developing. 

“It’s okay if one day any of them decide to start their own company so that we’ll have more works and a larger group of audiences too.”

BUT IS IT KHON?

“Black and White” is on Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm and on Sunday 2pm. 

Tickets are Bt500. 

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

For bookings, call (099) 213 5639 and (095) 956 9166, or online at www.ChangTheatre.com.