Sighs of disappointment were clearly audible last year when the French embassy announced that the 2015 edition of its annual French-Thai cultural festival, La Fete, would be their last. Consolation came in the form of a promise that support for collaborations between French and Thai artists would continue.
That promise has been kept as evidenced by last Saturday’s Fete de la Musique at Alliance Francaise Bangkok. That sported the new La Fete logo and so we can rest assured that our favourite festival has returned, albeit in a new form.
The new incarnation of La Fete continues this week with the Southeast Asia premiere of “A (Micro) History of World Economics, Danced”, or in Thai “Kin yu khue, mi ten duai”, for which internationally acclaimed French playwright and director Pascal Rambert flew in to work with Silpathorn artist Nikorn Saetang and a Thai cast of 57 ranging in age from five years young to 57 years old. They include Sasithorn “Heen” Panichnok from the award-winning film “The Island Funeral”. The new play is a co-production between the French embassy, Chulalongkorn University’s Department of Dramatic Arts and Studio 41 and is supported by Institut Francaise.
Theatre fans probably remember that two years ago Rambert gave a talk at Alliance Francaise Bangkok and a workshop at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts during his brief visit here to attend Thai director Bhanbhassa Dhubthien’s rehearsals of “Loek”, the Thai translation of Rambert’s “Cloture de l’amour” the script of which was also published by Butterfly Book House.
The French production of “Cloture de l’amour” is now touring China, as part of the Croisement Festival, La F๊te’s Chinese counterpart.
Rambert tells XP that it’s because of that short but memorable experience that he proposed to work on his “Une (micro) histoire Economique du monde, dansee” with Thai actors here.
“I never do this. When a production is done [in a foreign country], it’s finished and I move on to another country. But here it’s different. When I talked with arts and theatre students and young artists, I felt that for them there’s no way out. Unlike our government in France, the Thai government gives very little support for [contemporary] performing arts and I think that’s, unfortunately, a waste after so much investment in arts education. I’m a foreigner and I don’t want to criticise the government here. But I wanted to come back to spend time with young Thai artists, to share a common project in which we discuss economics and arts.”
Conceived at the height of the European economic crisis and inspired by his conversation with University of Montreal comparative literature professor Eric Mechoulan, “A (micro) history of world economics, danced” briefly traces our collective economic history. Premiered at Theatre de Gennevilliers centre dramatique national de creation contemporaine, where Rambert is the director, and subsequently staged in Japan, Germany, Egypt and the US, the performance always recruit local performers and non-performers of various personalities and backgrounds to share their own histories – thus fitting with the larger history of economics, and with La F๊te’s mission of collaborating cooperation between French and Thai artists. The people on the stage are trying to make sense of a crisis.
Rambert adds, “This play is an opportunity for these 57 people in the cast to really share. In addition to creating their physical movements, they also say out loud what they write on stage [not scripted by Rambert]. For example, when I staged this play in Cairo last year, the topic was economics but the actual subject matter [thanks to all the cast members] was what happened in their revolution a few years before. This is also an opportunity to prove that contemporary theatre is more than what we see, it’s the life experience of people. It’s a time to stop and really think about our current socio-economic condition.”
Rambert has “danced” in the title, and he explains, “It’s not a pure dance work, but the physical movement is connected to the ecology of the stage, in the same way as acting, singing, sound and lighting, for example.”
“It’s like I’m offering an Asian dinner [with a variety of food from which to choose] to the audience who would then decide how to edit it and what to take from it. This multi-dimensionality is similar to works by contemporary artists I admire like Pina Bausch, Jan Fabre and Romeo Castelucci.”
Speaking of his experiences of working with Thai actors for the first time, Rambert says, “I’m very happy. Well, I’m an optimistic person to begin with. I fight for an idea of arts and theatre that leaves a positive trace in the mind of people with whom I work. I’m especially happy here because I’m working with people who are always on time, willing to share, understand everything, and don’t complain. They also understand their role as the authors of their own work. The Asian body is something that’s always close to my work. After many years of working in Japan, I find sheer precision in the Japanese body; here, smoothness, warmth and sensuality add to that.”
A graduate of physical theatre institute Ecole Jacque Lecoq, Nikorn, whose role is connecting all parts of the performance with his monologues, is delighted to be working with Rambert, “With his previous experiences in many other countries, he knows how to manage and to work with such an enormous cast. I especially admire how he gives importance to each individual person. It’s a real ensemble and each member feels he’s an integral part of the whole, which learns and understands the play step by step together. And this is in direct accordance with the content of the play which talks about modern economics and how they are affecting each and every one of us.”
Having received much acclaim from her performance in the Thai production of “Cloture de l’amour”, Heen adds, “Rather than solely relying on the text to tell his story, Rambert treats the stage like a canvas using colours, costumes, actors and non-actors. I believe this will take the audience on a more visceral journey where they can make their own different discoveries.”
Heen is joined in the lead roles by three other professional actresses, all of whom worked with Rambert’s French assistant Clementine Baert and Thai assistant Paspawisa Jewpattanagul last month before his arrival. They are Preeyasuda “Amm” Akkarasrisawad, Peangdao “Yoi” Jariyapun and Siree “Wan” Riewpaiboon, last seen in “How I Learned to Drive”.
ECONOMICS FOR ALL
- Part of La Fete 2016, Pascal Rambert’s “A (Micro) History of World Economics, Danced” runs from Thursday to Saturday at Chulalongkorn University’s Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts, a 10-minute walk from BTS Siam, exit 6, along Henri Dunant Road.
- The show starts at 7.30pm and will be followed by a discussion. It’s in Thai with French and English surtitles.
- Tickets are Bt 600 (Bt400 for groups of four people and students). For details, check www.BangkokStudio41.com, call (094) 931 3434 or see www.Facebook.com/DramaArtsChula.