• Party Animal /Photo:Jitti Chompee
  • Piazzolla /Photo:18 Monkeys Dance Theatre

Two works, two cities

Art November 12, 2018 01:00

By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation

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Two new performances promise to show the significant progress of the nine-year-old 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre



NOVEMBER promises to be a busy month for all those who love the performing arts, with the 15th annual Bangkok Theatre Festival (BTF) already underway, the 2nd annual Bangkok International Performing Arts Meeting (BIPAM) running from Wednesday to Sunday and another annual event, the International Dance Festival (IDF) getting underway next week.

And there are also performances outside of these festivals, with 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre’s “Party Animal” and “Piazzolla and 18 Monkeys” proving that contemporary dance theatre still exists in Thailand, despite its very few works.

Choreographer Jitti Chompee, founder and artistic director of 18 Monkeys, tells XP: “It seems like we’ve disappeared for a while but that’s actually not the case. We had our production of ‘Red Peter’ on tour to the Netherlands, South Korea and Chiang Mai last year. Plus I was working on [curating] the [international multi-disciplinary arts festival] ‘Unfolding Kafka Festival’ last year, which doubled in size from the first edition.

Party Animal /Photo:Jitti Chompee

“At the beginning of this year, I started the creation process for a new work ‘Party Animal’ with dancers from Germany, Lithuania and Canada in addition to 16 extra performers – dance and theatre majors from Srinakharinwirot and Suan Sunandha Rajabhat Universities,” he continues.

“Initially, I auditioned about 100 of them and 16 have been taking my workshops and rehearsing this work for five weeks to make sure that their physicality fits. It’s been tough going to two universities every week to teach and rehearsing with them. However, they’re very inspiring and I’ve enjoyed spending time exposing them to this conceptual art work. I believe that performing arts can make a strong impression on young people while offering an alternative way for them to learn. Finally, we’ve found some talented students who I’m sure can pursue contemporary dance in the future. Also, I could see what these students needed and actually what dance education [in Thailand] needs. It’s good research for me as I’m developing the ‘Unfolding Kafka Festival for Dance Education and Performing Arts 2019’ as well. By doing so, I hope to contribute to changing Thailand’s image by making it a destination for the contemporary arts.”

Party Animal /Photo:Jitti Chompee

For “Party Animal”, Jitti has been inspired by Louise Bourgeoise’s pink dolls, intrigued with the abstract architecture of bare human bodies in Berlinda de Bruyckere’s sculptures, and fascinated with Berghain, Berlin’s mecca of electronic music, and how people behave differently by day and by night. 

In this new work, he is discussing with his audience cathartic behaviour in contemporary society, the psychology of space as well as gender and identity issues.

“Piazzolla and 18 Monkeys”, on the other hand, reveals the latest progress of his company’s most recognisable work – the title of which went on to become the company’s name.

Jitti explains: “This is a recreation and 80 per cent of the choreography has changed. Having been invited to work with the jazz band Escalandrum, led by Daniel Piazzolla or Astor’s grandson, ‘18 Monkeys’ was reworked to premiere at Teatro San Martin, Buenos Aires in September 2015. So, now, for this special occasion, four dancers including Anucha Sumaman, a principal dancer at the National Theatre, and Canada’s Benjamin Tardif, Lithuania’s Dovydas Strimaitis and Germany’s Sukadeva Joshua Horn will share the stage with a live music trio, including the award-winning Argentinian bandoneonist Daniel Ruggiero and Pro Musica musicians, Tasana Nagavajara on violin and Panyaphat Wongwechwiwat on violoncello. It will be a rare opportunity to listen to Piazzolla’s melody performed live with bandoneon and strings and is the most extensive Astor Piazzolla’s music repertoire ever in Thailand.”

Piazzolla /Photo:18 Monkeys Dance Theatre

Both works will be staged at Bangkok’s Neilson Hays Library and Chiang Mai’s Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum. 

“Staging my works in unusual spaces away from the traditional theatre stage is a concrete way to make people become more engaged in my projects as it allows them to experience arts in a more personal way and better understand its importance. The library itself is beautiful and is a perfect landscape where I can put my choreography composition to fit into its architecture,” he says. 

“The Neilson Hays Library, which reopened this year following renovations to its historic 96-year-old building, is aiming to find new purposes for its space while bringing the community together. 

Piazzolla /Photo:18 Monkeys Dance Theatre

“There will be two charity performances—’Party Animal’ this Friday and ‘Piazzolla and 18 Monkeys’ on November 27—the proceeds of which will help cover the library’s educational and cultural activities, as well as the maintenance cost for 2019.”

As for Maiiam, Jitti was already there with his Unfolding Kafka Festival last November and notes: “It’s an empty minimalist space so any performance can nicely fit in. We have to be more concerned with its acoustics and lighting design, but with our previous experience, we’ll be able to better manage them this time.”

Two Capitals

“Party Animal” is from Friday to November 19, 7:30pm, at the Neilson Hays Library, on Surawong Road, and at Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum, Chiang Mai, on November 23 at 7pm.

“Piazzolla and 18 Monkeys” will start in Chiang Mai on November 24 at 7pm, then come back to Bangkok on November 26 and 27 at 7:30pm.

Tickets are Bt1,000 (Bt400 for students in Bangkok; free for students in Chiang Mai).

nTo purchase tickets, email 18MonkeysDanceTheatre@gmail.com. For more information, visit www.18MonkeysDanceTheatre.com.