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Stage Review

Every breath you take

'Oxygen' is ready for the Big Apple

B-Floor Theatre, Thailand's most prolific theatre company in recent years, has completed its political trilogy that began with 2010's "Flu-O-Less-Sense" and continued with last year's "Fool Alright" (2011). In "Oxygen", the finely united physical movements, visuals and sound not only kept the audience engaged throughout the one-hour performance time, but also had us thinking, feeling and imagining - finding our own interpretation - all the time.

Director Teerawat Mulvilai joined up with choreographer Thanapol Virulhakul and the movement of the five performers, Thanapol included, ranged in style - from literal to abstract; in pace - from slow and poetic to rapid and chaotic; and in mood- from tragic to comic, allowing each member of the audience to inhale, enjoy and reflect. The five performers were always together as a strongly knit ensemble, so was easy to overlook the fact that a few of them were unable to physically master some of the more difficult movements.

While many sequences were universal and less specific to Thailand than in the previous two works, Teerawat made sure that "Oxygen" had a Thai signature. For example, an historic photo from the student demonstrations of October 1976, with some parts Photoshopped out, was projected on the plastic sheet backdrop. Lighting designer Pavinee Samakkabutr switched on the neon lights above the audience stands, while dimming the stage lights and repeated this cross-fading a few times. Unfortunately for the university students in the audience last weekend, who were not born back in 1976, their history textbooks do not show this photo and they've never been in a so-called student demonstration, instead voicing their political ideas via social media.

Production designer Wasuratchata Unaprom filled the two side walls and the back wall with gigantic collage of newspapers, cohering with the mainly black and white costumes and remind us of a multitude of social and political incidents that took place before we were able to breathe some freedom.

Meanwhile sound designer Wishnok Kanchanabanca supplied fitting tunes that ranged from Phumphuang Duangchan to Playstation. With no spoken dialogue other than shouts, shrieks and a few almost inaudible lines, this soundscape made for an entrancing performance.

After the show, I reflected on the name of my country Thailand -"Land of the Free". Does it only mean that we're the only country in the region that's never been colonized by a western power? What about the "freedom" that is a major component of our 80-year-old democracy? Are we really free? Does freedom have a limit? And if not, why do some seem to have more than others?

For many months, B-Floor has been actively fund-raising for their tickets to perform two works in New York City - the other is "Taste of Curry" - and to attend workshops there for a total of three weeks, starting July 19. Thanks to the immense support of fellow artists including some who have donated art works for auction to put money towards the travel fund, as well as audiences, they've secured enough money and are now ready for this important trip. Unfortunately, they have not received any support from the government, who seems to prefer spending our taxes on shipping out traditional Thai dancers to travel fairs, conventions and expos.

That brings to mind one of the recurring images in "Oxygen" - a shoal of fish struggling to come up to the surface of the water for some air. Despite such hardship, they live on - but for how long, one can only guess.

TIME TO INHALE

"Oxygen" continues from Thursday to Monday at Poonsuk Banomyong Auditorium in Pridi Banomyong Institute, between Thonglor Sois 1 and 3 (BTS's Thong Lo). Showtime is 7:30pm.

Tickets are Bt500, bookable at www.BFloorTheatre.com, or by calling (089) 167 4039. You can get Bt50 discount if you show a ticket for Theatre 8X8's "Beauty to Hell" (ongoing at Democrazy Theatre Studio) or Kon Na Khao's "Phrachan Si Som Om Chomphu" (at Crescent Moon Space).


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