• Vallabhis, standing left with Banyong Pongpanich, CEO of Kiatnakin Phatra Financial Group, and Chakrabhand Posayakrit seated,

In celebration of a true master

Art February 06, 2019 01:00

By Kupluthai Pungkanon
The Nation

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Many years in the making, Chakrabhand Posayakrit’s exquisite puppet performance “Taleng Phai"

After three decades of dedica¬tion and hard work, the most refined puppetry troupe in Thailand formed by National Artist Chakrabhand Posayakrit took to the stage last week to celebrate the opening of its recent¬ly completed auditorium at the Chakrabhand Posayakrit Foundation Museum in Bangkok’s Sai Mai district. 

The troupe was performing “Taleng Phai”, a work that has been in prepa¬ration for decades and follows on from the highly successful “The Battle of the Red Cliff” from “The Three Kingdoms” back in 1989. 

One of the highlights of “Taleng Phai”, a heroic epic recounting the struggle of King Naresuan of Ayutthaya to liberate his kingdom from Burma, is the exquisite puppet of Princess Suphan Kanlaya, King Naresuan’s sister created and brought to life by Chakrabhand. The plot was conceived and outlined according to Chakrabhand’s ideas with a script writ¬ten by Vallabhis Sodprasert, the artist’s longtime right hand man and deputy director of the foundation. 

The full dress rehearsal held last week for the media and the founda¬tion’s sponsor, Kiatnakin Phatra Financial Group, featured 200 mar¬vellous puppets and a 200strong crew including 30 musicians. Chakrabhan, 75, who is still recovering from a stroke that left him partly paralysed, was there too, sitting in his wheelchair and totally focused on the show, giving great encouragement to his cast and students. 

“It was a dream come true to have not only the full performance but most importantly to have our master here with us,” says Vallabhis. “He speaks very little these days. I really wish he could talk more but he says his thoughts are slow. It has been a diffi¬cult time for all of us. There have been a lot of complicated problems with the construction of the hall and the muse¬um, and to be honest, even now we are not quite ready. We often feel lonely and discouraged. Every day we pray for our master to recover fully and be able to return to being part of the troupe. He dances so beautifully. Some people in the audience used to cry while see¬ing the master performing. However, since the show must go on, we want to carry on his dream and determination to create a heritage for Thai people of every class, rich or poor,” he says.

“Over the past decades, Chakrabhand has refused to sell any of his paintings no matter how much was offered. He wants to build a muse¬um so that every Thai can access his masterpieces.” 

Vallabhis stresses that his “Taleng Phai” is not an adaptation of the wellknown literary work “Lilit Taleng Phai” by Paramanuchitchinorot. 

“I started researching and compil¬ing documents from the King’s ver¬sion of the ‘Thai Chronicles’, ‘Thai Burmese Warfare’ by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, The Luang Prasert Aksoraniti version of ‘Old Ayudhya’s Chronicle’ and ‘Testimony of a Former Ayutthayan’. Based on my own read¬ing of the events and my wish to recount a story that had been passed down from generation to generation, I used the puppet song as the narra¬tive. I envisioned a bedtime story told by parents to a child who then falls asleep and dreams of the events unfolding in front of his eyes, seeing what was happening in the Ayutthaya period after the fall to Burma in 1569.”

                Vallabhis Sodprasert, the artist’s longtime right hand man and deputy director of the foundation

“After having written the prologue, I felt that the Black Prince’s or the Crown Prince’s return to Ayutthaya, after having been held hostage in Burma for so many years, would not have been easy without the exchange of another member of royalty. I trust¬ed my own conviction that Princess Suphan Kanlaya must have left her motherland for Hanthawaddy and sacrificed herself as a concubine to Minen, Bayinnaung’s heir to the Burmese throne, in exchange for her brother Prince Naresuan, who was to save the country from vassalage. What a great sacrifice this was from that unsung heroine but her courage and sacrifice faded with the passing of time.”

The scene of Princess Suphan Kanlaya’s departure for Hanthawady marks the beginning of “Taleng Phai”. There is also an amazing cockfighting scene and the dream sequence of fight¬ing the huge crocodile, both of which are great fun to watch. For these, the writer drew from the storyline written by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab. 

“I had Viceroy Upayaza challenge Prince Naresuan to a cockfight. The core to this performance is to pay tribute to the Great King Naresuan and the Siamese monarchs, and to pay gratitude to our national heroes,” Vallabhis adds.

“When we see the performance, we enjoy it but we should also remember the sacrifices that King Naresuan made throughout his life. The king passed away in the jungle and had no proper royal cremation.

The plot and gorgeous costumes are further enhanced by the music com¬posed by veteran composers Boonyong and Boonyang Ketkong and Suchao Hrimpanich and played by a phipat, as a traditional Thai ensemble is known, as well as the exquisite chore¬ography created by revered masters Salakwit Phusanpetch, Supachai Chantarasuwan and Chamnian Srithaipan.

Vallabhis has written the dialogue both in Thai and Burmese to make the story more realistic and boost its aes¬thetic quotient. The scenes are deliv¬ered with artistic precision though Vallabhis admits that some of the scenes have had to be dropped. “The traffic behind the curtain is one of the main problems we encountered. There are many more beautiful scenes but we couldn’t use them because of space and management constraints.” 

Chakrabhand, who fell in love with puppetry as a child, learned his craft from master puppet makers Chuen Sakulkaew and Wong Ruamsuk, embroidery from Yuean Phanuthat, and Thai music and classic dance from Boonyong and Boonyang Ketkong. In 1975, the Chakrabhand Posayakrit Puppet Troupe was set up and per¬formed a series of critically acclaimed shows including “Phra Aphai Manee” in 1975, the “Nang Loy” episode of the epic “Ramakien” in 1977, and “Sam Kok” (the Thai adaptation of the Chinese epic the Three Kingdoms) in 1989.

Vallabhis, who has been working side by side with Chakrabhand for more than 40 years, says he regards Chakrabhand as a true master and taught his entire student body to pay great respect to the veteran artist. 

“To dance beautifully and coher¬ently with the puppet takes great per¬severance and discipline. Master Chakrabhand is very attentive to every detail. He used to praise the good and point out the errors while teaching stu¬dents. He is very strict and selfdisci¬plined too. He used to rehearse hour after hour, year after year, holding the head of the puppet on the stick and dancing while watching his reflection. Today the puppets and their mecha¬nisms are much more advanced. They are more lightweight and more flexi¬ble, especially the hands,” he adds.

“The greatest lessons we have learned from master Chakrabhand are virtue and kindness, as well as the importance of being punctual and grateful,” he concludes.


Puppetry at its finest

- There will be a total of nine performances throughout this month for the various organisations that have contributed to the success of the “Taleng Phai” performance and the museum. 

- The schedule for the general public will be announced later.