The mythical Manohra _ the half-bird, half-woman creature of desirable beauty _ will have to do more than just looking desirable in the latest adaptation of the chadaka folk story. She will also have to sing a choral line, then do a little dancing.
Nantarat Chaowaraj stars as Manohra in a Suan Plu Chorus performance.
"This is a very creative version of the Phra Suthon-Manohra story," says Dusadee Banomyong, director of Suan Plu Chorus. "Our singers will sing, dance, sword-fight, gambol, perform shadow play, almost simultaneously. It's a demanding version we're putting together here."
Suan Plu Chorus, a hard-working, 10-year-old band of 45 singers, are rehearsing for a big tournament. On July 8, they will leave Bangkok to compete at the World Choir Games 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the US, a major competition sometimes compared to the Olympics of choral music.
To make the trip, however, the band requires sizeable funding and, for months, they've tried several channels of sponsorship, to limited success. So on Saturday, the Suan Plu Chorus will stage a full show of Manohra at the National Theatre, and accompanying it is an auction of paintings by renowned artists in an effort to pull together the finance that will allow a showcase of Thai culture at the international contest.
"Telling a folk story through choral music is something that's never been done before," says Dusadee. "In this performance of Manohra, we also use the technique of shadow play, adding a new dimension to the familiar story.
"Because the World Choir Games is such a big event, we're hoping to bring the pride of Thai culture to the global level."
A shadow play technique is part of the show.
In the competition next month, each band is required to perform two categories of music. The first is Musica Contemporanea, and for this set, composer Kaiwal Kulawatanothai has picked four numbers for Suan Plu Chorus to sing Plub Plueng by Bruce Gaston, Water by Kaiwal, Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre and Kurunamasaka, an homage song to great music teachers written by Kaiwal.
The highlight is in the second category, called Scenic Folklore, which is the Manohra story that the Thai band is cooking through the ingredients of voice, movement and shadow.
Manohra tells a chadaka tale _ one of the previous incarnations of Buddha _ and it narrates the story of a mythical creature captured by a huntsman from a heavenly pond and her subsequent romance with Prince Suthon. For this performance, composer Kaiwal has written and arranged original songs of complex harmony that illustrate the four key scenes of the tale: the huntsman laying siege to Manohra; the marriage between Manohra and Prince Suthon; the prince bidding farewell to his wife to go to battle; and the sacrifice of Manohra.
"Last time, the team that won came from Korea, and their rendition of a Korean folk story was impressive," says Dusadee.
"It'll be a landmark moment if our Thai band can do the same, if not this year, then in the future."
Struggling to finance the whole endeavour is as hard as drawing up the new show itself, adds Dusadee. Suan Plu Chorus has received generous support from two National Artists, Angkarn Kalayanapong and Tawee Rachaneekorn, who donated two of their paintings _ and the paintings by these two names usually fetch a huge sum _ for the band to auction.
Four other artists also offered their works for the benefit of the cause. And just a few days ago, an art collector proposed to buy them all, with the proceeds going directly to the band.
Suan Plu Chorus is also funded by the Ministry of Culture, though it still doesn't cover a trip of 45 people to Cincinnati. The latest development is that National Artist Suchart Sawadsri has also donated a painting for auction.
The Saturday performance of Manohra will hopefully bring in more funds, though for Dusadee, the show at the prestigious venue of the National Theatre will be more than that.
"It will give the audience the real impression of what we're trying to do," says the director. "I always say that as humans, we need food for the body and food for the soul. What we're doing is to give you the latter. And it's still important."
Manohra will be performed at National Theatre on Saturday at 7.30 pm. Call 02-2860503, 089-8967711.
About the author
- Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor