Getting in on the act

March was a busy month for theatre-goers as artists apparently rushed to stage their shows before holiday-packed April arrived. Here are a selection of theatre and dance productions that were staged last month, some of which are ongoing.

In one of the highlights of a rich month in theatre, Bo Kittiphon performs butoh dance in Whispers of the Shadow of a Quivering Leaf .

Lieber Adzio

- In Jitti Chompee's follow-up to his Demon in Venice, this second Death in Venice-inspired creation showed how far the choreographer had come from his usual aesthetic and choreographic excesses and disunity. Although some of Jitti's penchant for over-the-top spectacle and tendency to insert illogical details could still be seen, Lieber Adzio was mostly a spare and well-structured creation that tells a story of homosexual love and forbidden desire. Through clever plays with the dancers' T-shirts, Jitti's choreography smoothly transitioned from a boyish game to a menacing fight, from youthful innocence to shame. The choreographer also seamlessly weaved in pedestrian movements, which he infused with intriguing intensity. Dirk Haubrich's composition, with a fusion of Thai and Western classical instruments, moved the dance along from scene to scene, mood to mood, with beautiful clarity. The dancers, from various dance backgrounds, got to highlight their unique skills in subtler ways than before. And this time, they formed a strong, unified ensemble.

Ganesh

- Pichet Klunchun takes an anthropological and critical look at khon by returning once more to the Ramayana episode where Ganesh loses one of his tusks. The name of the show may have remained the same, but this latest version is already the third incarnation of Ganesh. Presented in a combination of casual conversation and dance demonstration formats, the piece started with Pichet coming out to greet the audience in the waiting room of his Chang Theatre, where couches were set up in a loose U-shape formation. He launched straight away into a conversation with the audience about tradition and khon.

The dancers, all of them excellent, were used to illustrate a point or spark a topic of conversation as opposed to their traditional purpose of aesthetic admiration. Pichet, together with the audience, dissected various elements of khon and questioned the rules and rituals that govern and define the art form. The performance/discussion on March 23 afternoon revealed the evolution of the way a culture creates and consumes art. Pichet, who had spent years cultivating and profiting from khon, eventually concluded that the art form, created and originally patronised by the ruling class, and currently managed by the Department of Fine Arts, has no possibility of growth. Ultimately, Ganesh is more than an analysis of an art form. It's a dissection of an authoritarian thought process.

The Giordano Bruno Project

- Movement, words and the sound of a Renaissance lute came together in this timely creation that draws parallels between the life of a 16th-century philosopher and the rampant persecution of those who challenge established beliefs in Thailand today. Created and performed by Jacopo Gianninoto, Nana Dakin and Sasapin Siriwanij, the piece happened to be staged soon after the Tob Jote television programme's episode on the Thai monarchy was muzzled by its own channel, Thai PBS, resulting in the subsequent resignation of the programme's host and production team.

This timing made the show seem like a protest performance. However, The Giordano Bruno Project felt like it was still in the developmental stage _ a loosely and quickly assembled collage or an artistic presentation of the philosopher's ideas. The production's pretty pastel palette was almost too easy on the eye for the subject matter, but the players' passionate performances brought a contrasting and intense energy to the show. The Giordano Bruno Project will fly to Padua, Italy, in June to perform at the Bel Teatro festival.

Kim Jong Il Tai Laew

- Another interesting political play written and directed by newcomer Rattapong Pinyosophon of Pastel Theatre, Kim Jong Il Tai Laew (literally, Kim Jong Il is Dead) centres on a conversation between a young soldier (Weerawat Techakijathorn) and his wife (Kanittha Nongnuch) one hour before they must attend Kim Jong Il's funeral. The wife, who has seen her family members dying off one by one of starvation, cannot seem to shed a single tear for the leader, while her husband, loyal to the regime, tries to find ways to get his wife to cry. Rattapong once again brought us inside a home in order to speak about a large-scale political subject. His poignant debut play, Wan Tee Sahai Phayu Klub Ban (The Day Comrade Storm Comes Home), takes place inside a living room and tells the story of a young communist who returns home to his solitary mother.

Kim Jong Il Tai Laew's action takes place around a small dining room table. The premise of the play is comical, and it started out teetering on the periphery of satire, but then slipped all too soon into the sombre zone. As the play abandoned comedy, it also lost its edge and became more predictable. The asides intercutting the conversation between the couple highlight the gap between them, but robbed the audience of all the potential of silence. That said, Kim Jong Il Tai Laew had many moving moments and addressed the different levels of repression and oppression with sensitivity. The ending left a big philosophical question mark for me, but there was no doubt that Pastel Theatre is a company whose work we want to see more of. And I can't be happier to see that there's a young, serious playwright _ that rare species _ active on the theatre scene.

Phap Luang Ta Jak Neun Mafeung

- Crescent Moon Theatre brought respected writer Sri Daoruang's short stories to life in a double bill featuring portraits of women and the lives on the outer edges of progress the author is so known for. The first short play, adapted from short story Phap Luang Ta Kiaokab Karn Plian Sappanam (The Illusion of the Changing of Pronouns), takes place on a train, where a married woman and a man she loves interact every morning on the way to work and every evening on their way home.

The short story is written from alternating perspectives, and writer-director Sineenadh Keitprapai was courageous enough to have not imagined new dialogue but instead kept the first-person narrative style throughout the whole play. This is a difficult short story to adapt, and the struggle was evident in the play, with the occasional overacting and over-directing. Although the play had a nice bounce to it, both Sineenadh and the performers didn't quite manage to capture and retain the quiet quality of the story and the underlying tension that laces Sri Daoruang's prose. With the lack of the interplay between the words and the images, the play lost the mystery that is so potent in the short story, and the entire time I felt like I was watching a slide show with captions.

On the other hand, the second play, Neun Mafeung, adapted from the novella of the same title, succeeded in capturing the atmosphere and the innocence of the titular rural village rendered by Sri Daoruang. Also directed and adapted by Sineenadh, Neun Mafeung tells the story of teenagers whose lives intersect at the train track that has brought in a handsome young teacher and eventually leads two girls, forced to grow up too quickly, out of the village in hopes of better lives.

Each performer played different characters and sometimes served as the narrator who looked on as the story unfolded, and the way Sineenadh executed this imbued the play with a poignant innocence and a mystical air. The cast, comprised mostly of newcomers, formed a strong ensemble and gave the story a lot of energy and a big heart. Sineenadh, especially, was lovely as she switched from character to character with ease and a kind of brightness I had never seen from her before.

Whispers of the Shadow of a Quivering Leaf

- Bo Kittiphon is one of the very few dancers in Thailand who can truly call themselves butoh artists. And her commitment and love for the dance form shone through in her latest creation. The piece charts the dancer's artistic and personal journey with an photo exhibition and a performance. The exhibition serves as a box of memories leading the audience into the box of the present moment _ the theatre _ where Bo is present in the flesh. This slow meditation of a dance started off at a crawling pace as Bo, with her face concealed behind her long hair, eased her way out from behind the layers of translucent white fabric, peeling away layers of self bit by bit, working her way towards some form of release. Sometimes just slivers of her body could be seen, and her breathing became the most palpable presence in the room. When the light shone bright on her, Bo slipped into a darker place: The energy and the rhythm intensified and accelerated. Her body seemed to quiver with sorrow, weeping. When she finally revealed her face to the audience, the revelation felt rather too brief before she began folding into herself again in preparation for the final release. The ending felt sublime as her movement became light, airy, and uplifting. The spare sound design by Teerawat Mulvilai and the gorgeous lighting by Jira Eiamsa-ard truly stood out without overshadowing the performance, making this minimalist creation a complete emotional and mental experience.

A scene from Kim Jong Il Tai Laew by Pastel Theatre.

About the author

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Writer: Amitha Amranand
Position: Reporter