By Pawit Mahasarinand
The February 11 gala opening reception for this year’s edition of La Fete is already sold out. That’s certainly an auspicious start for the 2012 French-Thai arts festival, which is commemorating the 100th anniversary of Alliance Francaise de Bangkok.
Alliance director Claire Keefe says Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will join guests for the party at the French ambassador’s residence, which will include fireworks, a fashion show and a performance by Pichet Klunchun.
“La Fete is more popular and visible now, and that’s the achievement I can be most proud of,” says French cultural attache Stphane Negrin, who put together four of the eight festivals held so far.
The audience has grown steadily since the festival began putting on outdoor exhibitions in front of the Zen store in 2008, borrowing the idea from the public displays in Paris’ Jardin du Luxembourg. Shows have been sent “on the road” as well to draw in more spectators, like last year’s “Tuk Tuk”.
Negrin quotes France’s first culture minister, Andre Malraux: “Culture is not for a specific part of the population but for everybody.”
“I want to promote culture, not only French and Thai but also other cultures, to the largest Thai audience possible,” Negrin adds.
“Bangkok is a very big city with a lot of potential, with a lot of things already well developed. Culture has great days ahead here, but there’s some work to do. There are many young Thai artists with a lot of ideas who are also open to foreign ideas. That’s why we have to bring cultural shows here.”
He notes that the new French counsellor for culture, science and development, Jeremy Opritesco, has been developing a programme that would involve more cooperation with Thai artists, institutes, government agencies and private firms.
“I think we’ve created a regular audience and now we can go further,” Negrin says, notwithstanding foreseeable problems. “Not many Thai corporations support the performing arts, and few of the cultural centres here promote the contemporary performing arts.”
The economy is reeling in both Europe and Thailand due to recent events, so sponsors for the arts are fewer in number than ever, and yet La Fete still offers a promising line-up this year.
“This is thanks in part to the French artists, many of whom have agreed to perform two shows for the price of one!” Negrin says.
The slogan is unchanged – “Same same, but different” – and the festival kicks off with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and choir of 100 students from many universities performing French music, guided by conductor Jean-Paul Penin and choir master Henri Pompidor.
Negrin is keen to override common cliches about his homeland. The Eiffel Tower on its printed material is just there to grab attention, he says.
“I’m 40 years old and the France I know is modern dance, modern circus, hip-hop, Airbus, TGV, new technology ... The embassy wants to present a good picture of our country, so we can’t just deal in cliches. France today has both the heritage and the radical artists, and La Fete is not a cliche, but a real picture of France.”
Brace for some surprises, then.
We’ll see the Southeast Asian premiere of “IETO”, a modern, dancing circus in which the troupe utilises “seven massive boards, a rope, two or three sticks and a few wedges”.
We’ll see “Stereoptik”, which mixes drawing, object theatre, video and music, at the soon-to-open Sofitel SO Bangkok.
The Beau Geste Company will present “La danse, une histoire e ma faeon” at the Patravadi Theatre and “Transports Exceptionnels” in Lumpini Park.
Museum Siam will host “Cinema Picnic by Moonlight” on Valentine’s Day, screening the freshly restored silent classic “A Trip to the Moon” and the new Emmanuel Mouret film “The Art of Love”.
And we’ll see “The Two Planets Series”, an exhibition by Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, and “Fete de la Musique” featuring IAM and Thaitanium, among others.
The festival’s first exhibition of paintings, a Pakitsilp Varamissara retrospective, will be at the National Gallery and his “In situ” collection at the Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel.
“The Upside Down World of Philippe Ramette” photo exhibition will be at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and, as always, SF World Cinema will host the French Film Festival.
The five-month festival ends in late June with the closing of “Portraits de Mode” a month-long outdoor exhibition of works by Jean-Marie Perier.
In the meantime it will again venture upcountry. The final performance of the dance dialogue “Pichet Klunchun and Myself” is scheduled for the Fringe Festival at the Vic Hua Hin after two shows in Bangkok. French Cinema Week will fill screens in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket, Koh Samui and Khon Kaen.
You’ll notice that none of the shows require any knowledge of the French language. In fact, Negrin points out that his countrymen back home are debating whether language is even part of culture.
But I’ll do my best anyway: Merci beaucoup!
La Fete 2012 runs from February 2 until March 29, with an outdoor exhibition continuing through June.
There are many free events. For the ticketed ones, book seats at www.ThaiTicketMajor.com.
Find out more at www.LaFete-Bangkok.com and its Facebook page.