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MONDAY, May 29, 2023
Back on-site and on your feet

Back on-site and on your feet

WEDNESDAY, March 01, 2023

Southeast Asia’s one-of-a-kind performing arts festival is back after more than three years

Although the pandemic closed down performance venues and disrupted international tours of many works worldwide, Bangkok’s International Performing Arts Meeting (BIPAM) has always been active and lived up to its promise to “propose Bangkok and its dynamic performing art scene as a platform for regional and international exchange and meeting.”

Apart from the ongoing “Blur the Lines, Redefine the Borders” series, BIPAM in 2020, for example, organized an online programme called “Under the SEA”, bringing together performing arts professionals from all country members of ASEAN in the span of 11 weeks. Sasapin “Pupe” Siriwanij, BIPAM artistic director, notes in our interview, “A purpose was to catch up with each country and to see how the situation of their artists was back then. Without intending it to be so, it ended up being a good compilation and introduction to the region. This series got BIPAM a lot of international exposure afterwards.”

Back on-site and on your feet

This fits BIPAM’s mission to be, in her words, “a dedicated platform for Southeast Asia” and she thinks BIPAM is “the only one of its kind” and “we want to maintain this position.”

A year later, and like many festivals at the time, BIPAM had its entire festival online. Pupe commented, “It worked for the time that it happened but I think we can’t do anything like that again. Everyone around the world back then was ready and willing to be on Zoom and dedicate their time and attention to whatever came up on screen. I thought the [entire] programme [of BIPAM 2021] was quite demanding but people stayed with us. When we’re planning the 2023 edition we’re wondering whether we should keep some online elements but because of [extra] cost and human resource we decided to give up the online programme.”

“Some people who’re further away from Southeast Asia have asked if there’s an online option and we’re saying ‘No’ to that. By far, we have a good number of people [from the region] who’ve registered. It’s nice to have this excitement from the region actually.”

Back on-site and on your feet

And so now that most of us have been vaccinated, again and again, and somehow feel more comfortable going back into performance venues—sans physical distancing—again, BIPAM is back with performances, talks, workshops, etc.—all onsite—, asking us to get back on our feet together again.

“Being on-site makes us think how to programme it so that it makes sense for people to fly [into Bangkok]. It’s much harder now to make a decision to fly somewhere even though things are opening up. How do we make this a meaningful trip for people? This led to our new activity called ‘Routes’, two [morning] walking tours [in Sam Yan and Bang Lamphu neighborhoods] so you can go out, looking at things with new eyes and new questions while walking with your fellow participants. This cannot be experienced online.”

Back on-site and on your feet

As for this year’s theme “Uncommon Ground”, Pupe explains, “It’s about looking around where we are after all that we’ve been through during the COVID years. A lot of [BIPAM’s] contents this year are about rethinking, revisiting, redefining or reimagining things.”

She continues, “Things are going back to normal but they’re not what they were before COVID. What’s this feeling that it’s familiar but also unfamiliar at the same time? For example, when we’re surveying the Sam Yan neighborhood in preparation for ‘Route B: Art and Urbanity’, nothing looks the same now even though I’m a Chulalongkorn University alumna.”  

In 2017, BIPAM commenced as part of Bangkok Theatre Festival (BTF) but now their schedules no longer correspond. Pupe explains this decision, saying “In the end, we realised that people who come to BIPAM would be looking for internationally friendly or ready-to-tour [stage] productions; BTF is not really a place for these. We can support each other in other ways. For example, first programme on BIPAM this year is ‘Report from the Field: A Report from Bangkok Theatre Festival’ in which the two [newly appointed] directors will talk about current movements in the Thai theatre scene as well as BTF’s new direction.”

Back on-site and on your feet

Over the years, BIPAM has successfully developed partnership with many international, not only regional, networks some of whom will be on-site in BIPAM. For example, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) will organize a workshop “We Are Not Alone: General Safety Training and Workshop for Artists” at Jim Thompson Art Center, which will also host a forum by Asian Dramaturgs’ Network.  

Don’t be pushed off if you’re not a performing arts professional, but just a performance lover living in Bangkok. You can buy tickets to enjoy any of the four BIPAM performances at four different venues. Pupe gives us a preview, explaining her curatorial approach:

“Of course, we prioritize Southeast Asian works and voices.”

Back on-site and on your feet

The opening performance is “Intermission”, a new work by Thanapol “Dtam” Virulhakul, the first co-production of BIPAM, Penang’s Georgetown Festival and Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA). 

“This has been developed from the 20-minute ‘One Table Two Chairs’ collaborative work by the two performers [of different generations and disciplines] Champa Saenprom and Vidura Amranand [respectively a traditional singer and a contemporary dancer] presented at BIPAM 2018. People were touched by it and saw a lot of potential for its development and so the three co-producing festivals proposed that it be developed into a full-length performance. We’re also excited that [veteran stage director and choreographer] Dtam, who’d been practicing Tibetan medicine [instead of dance and theatre], accepted our invitation for him to work on it.”   

Back on-site and on your feet

“In ‘We Say Mingalaba, You Say Goodbye,’ which was commissioned by and premiered at Kyoto Experiment last year [Silpathorn Award laureate and B-Floor Theatre’s co-artistic director] Jarunun ‘Ja’ Phantachat is trying to fuse the contemporary narratives of Thailand and Myanmar.”

Back on-site and on your feet

“Mark Teh’s ‘A Notional History’, a commission by Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (TPAM), is a big, touching piece taking an alternative look at history. It’s been applauded at many places [like Kunstendesartsfestival in Brussels] and I think it makes sense to have this on a regional platform like BIPAM.”

Back on-site and on your feet

For the last work which is not from the region but has many reasons to be included in BIPAM, Pupe says, “We’ve been trying to bring Israeli artist Ari Teperberg’s ‘And My Heart Almost Stood Still’ to Bangkok for many years after I watched it in ‘Isra-Drama and International Exposure of Israeli Theatre’ in 2018. It’s the time when Thailand was also interested in alternative discussion around the idea of disability. The artist creates a sensory journey for the audience as if you could live in the world of a person who’s both deaf and blind and still perceive beauty and sense the world around you. It topples all definitions I used to know about disability and I feel that disability is almost like a magical power that you can have.”

It's time to clear our evening—and, for some, morning and afternoon too—schedule for BIPAM.

BIPAM 2023 is made possible by the support of Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), Ministry of Culture’s Contemporary Arts Promotion Fund, Japan Foundation, Creative Economy Agency (CEA) and Contemporary Arts and Culture Industry Promotion Trade Association (Thailand) (CAPT).

BIPAM 2023 is from March 22 to 26 at Jim Thompson Art Centre and other venues in the centre of Bangkok. All programs are in English: Thai language volunteer interpreters are available. For more details and tickets, where you can buy either festival pass or ticket to individual event. For further inquiry, email [email protected]


Photo credit: (BIPAM networking event and forum) courtesy of BIPAM; (“Intermission”) Wichaya Artamat; (“I Say Mingalaba, You Say Goodbye”) Jira Angsutamatuch; (“A Notional History”) Anna van Waeg; (“And My Heart Almost Stood Still”) Efrat Mazor.