The Culture Ministry has planned a year of activities to further promote khon, the classical masked-dance theatre that on Thursday was added to Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Members of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (Unesco) meeting in Mauritius included Thai khon among several world cultural treasures added and to the list.
It is the first time that Thailand has been represented on the heritage list, and Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat credited the achievement to Her Majesty the Queen’s efforts to bring the theatre form into the 21st century with gala annual performances.
“She ordered a complete redesign for the costumes and ornamentation, the makeup, stage, format, lighting and sound, turning it into a royal khon performance,” he said.
To celebrate the Unesco decision, the Culture Ministry on Friday staged a performance at the Thailand Cultural Centre along with a demonstration of how the masks are made.
“We have also arranged additional three-hour performances of ‘The Allegiance of Phiphek’ from December 3 to 5 at the cultural centre,” Vira said, referring to the latest episode of the Ramayana being presented in the grand “royal” format this year.
“More live performances will be staged in the coming year and we’ll be screening the animated film ‘Ramayana’, which the ministry produced.”
Vira said there would also be exhibitions, children’s books and a documentary film presented around the country, and a khon digital database would be created for use by future generations.
While few would decry the focus on preserving traditional khon, some critics have said the government should also be supporting contemporary theatre as well.
The ministry will next year nominate nuad thai (Thai massage) and the southern traditional dance nora for inclusion on the Unesco list.
Also recognised by the UN agency as a form of Intangible Cultural Heritage “in need of urgent safeguarding” was Cambodia’s similar masked-dance form known as lakhon khol.
It was added to the Unesco Representative List in 2008, but this year was listed in a second category for the specific dance presented at Wat Svay Andet near Phnom Penh. It is unusual in that members of the community living around the Buddhist monastery accompany the performances by masked men with music and melodious recitation.
In explaining the listing, Unesco said the lakhon khol performance there “aims to ensure the community’s protection and prosperity by winning the favours of Neak Ta, a guardian spirit of the place and its people.
“After generations of transmission, the element’s viability has been weakened by environmental factors, economic migration, insufficient resources and the effects of war and of the Khmer Rouge.”