Friday, January 11, 2008

Dance fever

The Nation's reviewers look back on a year that saw some of the world's best ballet companies perform in Bangkok

Published on December 25, 2007

Dance fever

Ko Murobushi’s solo butoh performance ‘Quick Silver’, and, inset, the Thai interdisciplinary collaboration ‘ Remember…What You’ve Done in 24 Hours?’

The very fact that dance merits a separate round up from theatre this year speaks volumes about the number and quality of performances that Bangkok audiences have enjoyed over the last 12 months. Better still, these shows haven't been reserved for hi-so crowd but open to all.

To begin with, we've had three world-renowned ballet companies, from Germany, Switzerland, and Russia, giving memorable performances at our good old but soon-to-be-renovated Thailand Cultural Centre's Main Hall. Those shows also offered opportunities for ballet aficionados to celebrate the auspicious occasion of His Majesty the King's 80th birthday.

Stuttgart Ballet was the first to perform, early in February. They offered the audience an awe-inspiring quadruple bill of abstract ballets, which successfully combined classical techniques with contemporary choreography. Their performance showed the more modern side of the company, very different from their "Romeo and Juliet" seen here a few years ago.

It also proved that ballets are not merely museum pieces of familiar tales to be admired from afar. Watching this kind of abstract work, the audience is required to take an active role in following and interpreting what the performance has to offer, and the result is a special treat for the mind as well as for the eyes.

Still lingering in many minds is the modern reinterpretation of Shakespeare's classic "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Zurich Ballet, which was without a doubt the highlight of Bangkok's Ninth International Festival of Dance and Music back in October, and yet another example of a blend of the seemingly un-mixable - the contemporary and classical arts, abstract and narrative works, as well as ballet and theatre.

Performed earlier this month and ending the year on a fittingly grand note was the three-part programme from the Mariinsky Theatre of St Petersburg, Russia. That's the legendary Kirov Ballet, not a minor Russian company.

With the Kirov's high technical standard and the carefully chosen ballet pieces of various flavours and styles ranging from classical romantic to more contemporary, it wasn't hard at all for Bangkok audiences to fall in love with the company. And despite not being as "daring" or "new" as the Stuttgart or the Zurich, the Kirov showed an exceptional level of classical finesse thatmust not be regarded as antiquated, or rejected in any other way by the new generation.

The Ninth Bangkok Festival also presented memorable purely contemporary works like the Italian Compagnia Aterballeto's passionate and symbol-filled "Romeo and Juliet" and Israel's Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company's mesmerising mind voyage "Upon Reaching the Sun".

Although there was no Bangkok Fringe Festival 2007, Patravadi Theatre was a major stop for many international tours of dance performances year-round, ranging from Japan Contemporary Dance Network's five-part programme "We're Gonna Go Dancing" and a solo butoh performance by Ko Murobushi entitled "Quick Silver", to an intercultural collaboration of Dutch and Sumatran choreographers titled "pARa_DIsE: a woman? BunDo kAnDuanG".

And while the Bangkok dance floor was filled with imports, our home-grown talent also had a chance to show how capable they are these days of producing original works with Thai sensibilities that nevertheless appeal to an international audience. The most exceptional were "Remember…What You've Done in 24 Hours?", an interdisciplinary collaboration of dancer/ choreographers Jitti Chompee and Sarawanee Tanatanit, filmmaker Tanon Sattarujawong, and glass harpist Weeraphong Thaweesak; and "Dancing to Nirvana", Bangkok University's dance theatre that premiered in Prague and will perform at Esplanade Theatre Studio in late January.

The much-travelled Silpathorn Award recipient Pichet Klunchun also had another prolific year, with the ongoing international engagements of "Pichet Klunchun and Myself" and "I Am a Demon". On home soil, his Life Work Company made a strong political statement in "One-Legged Rabbit" as part of "We're Gonna Go Dancing", and his solo "Pichet's Code", presented at SPAFA's Live Arts Bangkok 2007, explained many of the ideas behind his creative works.

Courtesy of Esplanade: Theatres on the Bay, The Nation's dance reviewers had a ball at their da:ns 2007 festival in the island state. Over two days in mid October, we watched Batsheva Dance Company's multi-media masterpiece "Telophaza" and Jerome Bel and Pichet Klunchun's intercultural dialogue on classical Thai dance "About Khon" (which was also staged at MR Kukrit Pramoj's Heritage House two evenings later), as well as Bel's "The Show Must Go On", which defied any definitions of dance we could muster.

Jasmine Baker, one half of the reviewing team, took advantage of a free afternoon to enrol in Batsheva's professionals-only master class, where she experienced first-hand Ohad Naharin's world-famous "Gaga" technique.

The wide-ranging experience ended with a hip-hop dance party hosted by Marty Kudelka - yes, we danced and drank our last night away at Singapore's cultural centre.

Now, let's flash forward and mark some dates during the first two months of our 2008 dance calendar. First up will be the Bangkok Fringe Festival 2008 beginning January 17 and lasting four consecutive weekends with performances held in Patravadi Theatre's various spaces. For more, visit

Then, internationally renowned choreographer Akram Khan will present his new work "Bahok", which will have its world premiere in Beijing only 10 days before Bangkok's one-evening-only performance on February 5. More details at

Our best wishes for a happy new year, and we promise that we'll keep previewing and reviewing dance for you right here at The Nation.

Jasmine Baker, Pawit Mahasarinand

The Nation

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