In cultural desert of Bangkok, the International Festival of Dance and Music is the year’s biggest oasis. Better and bolder than ever, the 14th instalment swings back into action from September 10 to October 14 at its home base in the Thailand Cultural Centre.
The festival’s main strength has always been its genre-defying diversity. This year, audiences will be treated to opera classics like “Madame Butterfly,” street dancers from the Netherlands, tangos from Argentina, symphonies such as Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo & Juliet”, and the spellbinding illusions of Switzerland’s Peter Marvey.
The festival opens on September 10 when the Ukraine’s Virsky National Dance Company takes the stage for a rousing curtain-opener. This accomplished troupe of 60 dancers has been thrilling audiences around the world since 1937. Famous for their colourful costumes and nimble choreography, the company has received rave reviews all over the world.
Jetting in for just one show performance on September 12 are the Seven Kings/Gypsy Kings from France. These sons of the original musicians, who will also accompany them in Bangkok, put on performances that are fiestas of passion and power with all the upbeat rhythms and wailing vocals for which the genre is known.
Taking the dance and theatre world by storm is Blaze, a multimedia spectacle and non-stop dance show that showcases the awe-inspiring talents of 16 of the best street-dancers and breakdancers from around the world. They are teamed with a director, choreographers and technical wizards who have worked with everyone from Madonna to the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Expect sell-out crowds for their shows September 14 and 15.
No poem has had more cultural impact than the Ramayana. All over Southeast Asia, for the past 2,000 years, this Indian-born epic has been recast as Javanese shadow plays, reimagined as Thai masked dramas and reinvented in Khmer dances. Don’t miss a rare chance to see the Ramayana straight from the source when the Orissa Dance Company holds sway on September 17. With live vocalists singing in Sanskrit, there will be simultaneous translations in English and Thai. For this extraordinary performance, the dance company has distilled the highlights of the poem into a potent brew that make this timeless tale of good versus evil so intoxicating.
Come mid-September, over the course of less than a week, dance aficionados will be privileged to take in three talented troupes from three completely different parts of the world at the top of their artistic game. The Quasar Dance Company from Brazil is first up on September 19, followed by the Baltic National Dance Theatre of Poland restaging their most controversial success, a pro-female, anti-domestic violence version of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. Then the appropriately named Spellbound Dance Company will put a few modern spins and contemporary twists on the perennially popular “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi on September 23.
From there the festival takes a detour into classic operatic terrain with an impassioned rendering of “Carmen” by the Chelyabinsk State Opera Theatre from Russia on September 27.
For romantic tragedies in the grand canon of opera, few are as legendary as “Madame Butterfly”, which tells the tale of an American navy lieutenant who becomes involved with a young Japanese woman nicknamed Butterfly. The show on September 29 will be the penultimate spectacular for the Chelyabinsk State Opera Theatre this year, and stars a beautiful Butterfly and a singing angel.
Sandwiched between those operas, the Chelyabinsk State Symphony Orchestra will be playing a triple bill of classical music titans on September 28. Under the baton of Anton Grishanin, the orchestra will bring new life into old standards like Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo & Juliet”, Rachmaninov’s “The Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra”, and Dvorák’s “Symphony No. 9 From the New World”.
Continuing in a classical vein, but on a different foot, the State Ballet of Berlin is re-enacting “Swan Lake”. This is going to be a grandiose production with the 120-member dance troupe accompanied by 72 musicians to celebrate the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Germany and Thailand.
Those fortunate enough to catch last year’s production of BBC’s “Blue Planet”, composed by the multi-award-winning George Fenton and under the baton of Richard Harvey, will be eager to catch the follow up. The “Planet Earth Live”, accompanied by an orchestra, is a colossal feat of technology and artistry, with a premiere in London in November. Behind the musicians is a huge screen showing dazzling high-definition highlight of this nature documentary. Shot over five years in 62 different countries, the film offers a new perspective on the planet and all its natural marvels and rarely seen creatures.
For a magical evening of family entertainment, do not miss Swiss illusionist Peter Marvey. For two nights, he’ll be bringing plenty of Vegas-style razzmatazz to the Thailand Cultural Centre.
Not only does the illusionist thrill audiences with his card tricks but he has created some large-scale illusions that are almost unparalleled. In one memorable performance at the international horse show, CSI Zurich, he conjured up a “phantom wedding coach” pulled by seven white horses and escorted by a retinue of fairies, all attired in white with enormous wings.
On October 12, audiences are in for a treat when the Limón Dance Company will perform. Hailed as one of the world’s greatest dance companies, Limón was founded in 1946 and has been at the vanguard of American dance since its inception. To celebrate their 65th anniversary, the company has put together an all-star programme that spans some six decades of inspired dance making.
Adding some Latin American spice to this year’s potpourri, “Tango Legends” by Mariela Maldonado & Pablo Sosa will bring the curtain down on October 14. These Argentinean talents have honed their craft and polished their art through a heavy regimen of rehearsing and touring.
Fan those flames on the last night of Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance and Music, back again for a 14th fantastic run, with tickets now on sale.
The festival is sponsored by Bangkok Bank, B. Grimm, Canadoil Group, DusitThani Bangkok, The Nation Group, Nivea, SCG, Thai Airways International, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Singha and Toyota Motor Thailand.
Countdown to culture
_ Book tickets at www.ThaiTicketMajor.com or call (02) 262 3191.
_ For more information, visit www.BangkokFestivals.com.