South Korean and Thai performing arts producers and artists finally meet and connect
Over the years, we have seen a few South Korean traditional performing art productions at Thailand Cultural Centre as part of Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance and Music and even today the world-famous non-verbal comedy show “Cookin’ Nanta” is thrilling mainly Chinese tourists nightly on Royal City Avenue.
And none of us could fail to be aware of the extent to which the K-wave has re-defined our definition of pop music and TV series as well as Korean food, cosmetics and plastic surgery.
Despite maintaining a relatively low profile, the Korean Cultural Centre here has gradually increased its promotion of what performing arts aficionados are enjoying at other festivals worldwide. Last November as part of the International Dance Festival, Ambiguous Dance Company delighted the audience with their creativity and wackiness, and back in June, six Korean artists collaborated with Thai counterparts in “Mannam: Urban Myth” at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.
With support from Korea Arts Management Service and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Bangkok’s Korean Cultural Centre is ramping up its efforts even further and in the right direction, as it’s evident that Korean and Thai producers and artists don’t really know what the others are doing.
From March 18 to 21, five Korean performing arts producers, most on their first business trip to Thailand, met, shared information and discussed common interests and possible collaboration with their Thai counterparts. These goals were achieved through both formal and informal meetings, visits to performing arts spaces, the Ministry of Culture’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture and the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in addition to two roundtable discussions at Democrazy Theatre Studio and Thong Lor Art Space. The event concluded with a public forum titled “Listen to the Cities” at the KCC.
Speaking at the forum, veteran producer, former professor and artistic director of AsiaNow, Kyu Choi, who is also organising Asia producer platforms in many Asian cities, began with a brief history of contemporary Korean performing arts. The fact that artistic exchange started being promoted by the government as early as the 1980s – just after the country became democratic – that decentralisation from Seoul began in 1995, and the support for Korean artists to showcase their works abroad went up to full-strength in 2000, did not escape attention.
He also mentioned 13 trends, among them interdisciplinary art, Asian network identity and international market development, introduced the country’s major venues and support organisations and even provided statistics on the number of performing arts companies and where they are located – interestingly less than 60 per cent are in Seoul and metropolitan areas.
A team leader of Korea Arts Management Service international development department, Euna Im demonstrated how the non-profit public foundation has served as a major channel for Korean performing arts through different programmes, with international partners in various countries though none yet in Thailand. KAMS’ Performing Arts Market in Seoul, held every October, is one of the most important of its kind in Asia, and many arts projects have established links through it. KAMS also run a website, theApro.kr, which acts as a window for Koreans to the world of performing arts, and vice versa. Having connected with many different regions of the world, Im also expressed strong interest in organising the next PAMS with a focus on Southeast Asia.
Jongyeon Yoon, artistic director of Ansan Street Arts Festival, which was founded by Choi, proved how this festival connected local communities with both Korean and international artists. Hyunah Lee, manager of Seoul Art Space Mullae, one of the Seoul Creative Spaces under the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture (SFAC), showed an example of how space is provided for both local and international artists to both create and present works, with each space focusing on different genre of arts.
It’s clear that in the management of Korean performing arts, the promotion of traditional and contemporary performing arts go hand in hand, as do the connection between the public and private sectors and research and practice. And these, unfortunately, are what we’re still lacking.
On the Thai side, I shared my observations on the current trends in contemporary Thai dance and theatre, explained our status as a major tourist destination and how the so-called tourist shows we present to foreign visitors like “Siam Niramit” and “Calypso” had little relevance for Thai audiences.
B-Floor Theatre’s co-founder and co-artistic director Teerawat Mulvilai spoke of how he had turned his international research on censorship on arts in Asia into the highly acclaimed physical theatre performance “Satapana”.
Democrazy’s Pavinee Samakkabutr and Wasurat Unaprom helped us digest the information and made observations on how we could learn from our Korean counterparts.
Missing from the forum, though, were our government officials, students and professors in the field. And that leads to the questions of whether this connection could ever be at the state-to-state level and whether the missing link between theory and practice in our performing arts management will prevail.
With this small yet significant link already established, we shouldn’t be surprised if the cultural traffic between the two countries will be busier in the near future.
The writer wishes to thank Korean Cultural Centre’s Suna Choe and Kim Jun-Young for all assistance.
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