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Living with ghosts

Jan 27. 2016
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By PAWIT MAHASARINAND
SPECIAL TO

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Inspired by a world-famous Loei tradition, Pichet Klunchun is ready to premiere his new work

THE RECIPIENT of the John D Rockefeller 3rd Award, Thai dancer and choreographer Pichet Klunchun is now bridging the Loei phi ta khon’s “open, improvisational, organic and intuitive nature” with his “contemporary choreographic system based on classical Thai dance” in his company’s new work “Dancing with Death”. He promises “choreography of continuous creativity and an image of ‘life after death’ as a never-ending cycle.”

“I’ve been working on this project for a long time and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay was the first producer to confirm its support two years ago. The starting point came from a desire to work on a folk tradition, which makes it very different from all my previous works,” he tells XP.

“I find the phi ta khon festival in Loei province fascinating. First, obviously, there’s dance performance in this tradition. Also, as the ghosts come out to play with the living people, it’s like a way of teaching us not to fear death. In Thailand, we talk about the concept of death through religion; yet in Dan Sai, they make it tangible and fun. Our costume designer Flynow’s Piyaporn Bhongse-tong has also been inspired by their costume and mask design, which comprises mostly everyday objects.”

Supported by Ministry of Culture’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, Pichet and his dramaturg Orada Lelanuja then conducted research into epistemology.

“I was curious as to how these villagers attained perceived wisdom for their creative insight from perseverance. And from this knowledge, we started to create our choreography, which is of course based on each individual dancer’s perception and creation at each moment of the performance,” he explains.

Last month at the Chang Theatre’s outdoor space, the company staged two open rehearsals for dance and theatre artists, scholars and media, all of whom received this new work with both warmth and enthusiasm. On the oval sloping pathway and to music by Japanese composer Hiroshi Iguchi, who also deftly included the sound of the khaen, Northeast Thailand’s reed mouth organ, seven dancers, Pichet included, first moved only their legs, walking after one another slowly as if in a procession. Responding to one another’s movements, they later added the upper limbs. Repetitive at times yet never boring nor predictable, their movements were like contemplation of death itself – the knowledge that it’s lurking around us and we simply have to understand it clearly in order to continue our happy lives.

Pichet explains, “The slow walk is probably a signature of my work, one that you often find when I talk about the concept of death. For example, there are a few minutes of this walk in [his most famous and most frequently staged collaboration work with French choreographer Jerome Bel] ‘Pichet Klunchun and Myself’. It’s not my creation though. It’s traditionally Thai: you can see it not only in stage performances but also in traditional rites like, most recently, the funeral of the Supreme Patriarch.”

The company’s largest production to date and evidently the most highly anticipated, “Dancing with Death” has received strong and firm financial support from the Esplanade, the Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama 2016 Executive Committee, and Arts Centre, Melbourne. By contrast, no Thai producers have yet come on board.

For Bangkok, Pichet is looking at the possibility of staging this work at the M Theatre in early June, as it’s “more affordable than other venues of the similar size”. However, the overall budget is around Bt4 million so the company has adopted the crowdfunding strategy, inviting us to pledge our support at www.meefund.com by April 28.

At press time, they were still Bt3.5 million short.

 GIVE A LITTLE

- The Pichet Klunchun Dance Company’s “Dancing with Death” will have its world premiere on February 7 and 8 at the Kanagawa Arts Theatre in Yokohama as part of Tokyo Performing Arts Market.

- It will be staged in May at the Esplanade Theatre in Singapore as part of the da:ns series, and at the Arts Centre in Melbourne next year. Discussions are underway to take the performance to Adelaide and Penang.

- To make the June performances in Thailand possible, donate at www.meefund.com/project/dancing-with-death-live-in-thailand.

- For more info, www.facebook.com/PKLifeWork

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