Dance of the majority
Manoland is a wonderful exploration of human nature and how we interact with one another
Watching Vidura Amranand dance in swirling red pants, in Teerawat Mulvilai's latest physical performance work Manoland, I was reminded of Somsong, the hysterical stepmother of Fak in Chat Kobjitti's 1985 novel Kam Pipaksa (The Judgement).
It was not a random thought -- no, Vidura isn't deranged, nor is she alleged to be sleeping with her own stepson, as Somsong is in the book. Yet, in more than one aspect Manoland is a parallel to Chat's critically-acclaimed novel. Teerawat, like Chat did 30 years ago, has taken a look into the most fundamental element in any society: human nature and interaction with one another. Things remain exactly the same: we judge people without any reasonable grounds and it ends in tragedy.
Like Kam Pipaksa, Manoland, from the troupe B-Floor, is essentially about the perception you have and what the reality actually is. Teerawat's choice of title sums everything up quite perfectly. With a cynical undertone, to mano, in Thai, is to imagine things not based on reality, which, according to Teerawat, is a disorder increasingly prevalent in modern society. That idea was established in the very first scene. Each of the ensemble -- Wasu Wanrayangkoon, Wisarut Som-Ngam, Surat Kaewseekram, Vidura Amranand, Waywiree Ittianunkul and Beer Yingsuwannachai -- alternately come out to give a solo dance, while others take turns in giving ridiculously absurd and far-fetched interpretations of those movements.
One reading concludes that his fellow dancer's movements are that of a woodcutter, a Beyoncé dancer or maybe a Japanese restaurant chef. Soon, another shuffles in, followed by a series of more interpretations -- "She's a serial killer"; "No, actually he's just a man with an erection"; "She's a cleaner"; "He's an arbat (violation) monk" etc.
The scene is funny because it's also quite sarcastic towards the art of physical theatre itself. A 600-word review could just as well be the result of a mano process and the director could be talking about an entirely different thing.
Unlike his previous solo works like the Satapana (Establishment) trilogy in which we were drawn to interact with him directly, the ensemble is already interacting within themselves, and the audience is relegated to the third party, observing from afar. One delightful element is Kamonpat Pimsarn's live piano accompaniment. It is so smooth that we can't tell whether it's the dance movements or his tunes that take the lead.
What Teerawat also benefits from an ensemble is how he can easily present a picture of a unit in society; when five dancers stand together and leave one alone, they form the majority. There isn't any clear storyline, just sketches of a society of hypocrisy and jealousy, where people like to pass judgements on others and delight in seeing them punished. In one scene, we see Vidura embark on a graceful solo to the contempt of the five other dancers. Like in other parts of the show, all the taunting words are kept strictly to monosyllables like ja and lor. In real life, these are the sounds you say in your head while pretending to smile at whoever you are talking to, or what you usually see in Facebook comments.
Such sketches go from funny depictions of everyday interactions on the streets to that of a much graver degree as seen in Wasu Wanrayangkoon's final solo. His nonconformity with others in their movements, leading him to be repeatedly beaten to the ground, is a representation of how those who think differently, in social or political issues, are treated in society. Such treatment is so deep-rooted and common in our society that we don't know if it's a scene of a kid being bullied at school or an actual political witch-hunt victim being beaten to death.
Manolandruns until Monday at Pridi Banomyong Institute at 8pm (3pm on Sunday). Tickets cost 600 baht. Call 089-167-4039 or email email@example.com.