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Cultural commentary: a quartet

Jan 11. 2016
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By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to

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Alliance Francaise brings Pichet Klunchun into the fold for ‘unwrapping culture’
Before the world premiere of Pichet Klunchun Dance Company’s largest work “Dancing with Death” next month in Japan, dancer-choreographer Pichet offers Bangkok audiences a chance to see “Unwrapping Culture”, a piece on which he has been working with Alvin Erasga Tolentino for the past few years and which he staged in Vancouver and Montreal last October.
A Manila-born and Vancouver-based choreographer, dancer, teacher and designer Tolentino was awarded the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for dance in recognition of his contributions to the field and to the city’s cultural communities.
“I’ve been following Pichet’s artistic development and needless to say his importance in the Thai dance culture is immense,” Tolentino tells XP. 
“I’ve been back to Thailand several times wanting to create artistic relations with the country and encountering Pichet at so many levels has been profound.
“Perhaps what drew me most to collaborating with him is his interest in the traditional and the contemporary – his need to find an alternative artistic and political voice using traditional forms, as in his method and practice of khon, and bridging the ideas and movements into contemporary expression.
“I’m very fond of this cultural bridging that recognises cultural history and heritage while responding to contemporary pulses and current social currents issues. I think what Pichet does in khon is quite relevant to emerging new practice, especially in dance.”
Tolentino adds that Pichet put forward the idea of their working together on “Unwrapping Culture”, the original version of which was a solo work by Pichet that Tolentino watched in person at the Ton Son Gallery in 2010.
“Its messages are global and can easily be comprehended by the audience. For example, it deals with the idea of excess, materialism, who makes decisions on culture, how we deal with our consumerism realities, when it will stop and how we can ponder and realise what’s actually going on in our world and society.
“I think choosing this work is both natural, simplistic if you prefer, and very complex at the same time. It allowed me to enter and understand Thai culture during the process and do more research. It also forces me to accept realities and what I did not know.”
As for the change from the solo version, Tolentino notes, “The materials have been expanded and re-worked so that you see two bodies in the space expressing two ideas that are politically voiced. We force the audience to be part of the work and it’s very relevant to the delivery of the performance. It’s not traditional but a way of finding new meanings and experiences in attending cultural events and how the audience matters.”
“In fact, Pichet and I always say, ‘The work is not a duet, but a quartet’.”
Tolentino says that the work was received with exceptional praise at the two Canadian venues.
“Some audience members were very moved after seeing the kind of devastation that such a performance can express about the world we live in, objects and our attachment to things and consumerism.”
Canada’s dance magazine The Dance Current, was also moved, commenting, “Many of the vignettes in ‘Unwrapping Culture’ ridicule materialism and waste, attacking globalisation and the co-opting of culture for economic gain. Klunchun’s warmth was infectious, and while the approach was light-hearted, the work tackled serious concerns about social change – the erosion of religion and tradition in favour of technology and consumerism. There was some lag in pacing with the construction of scenes, but it did succeed in engaging attention while posing important questions with great moments of charm and reflection, as well as visual playfulness.”
As for Bangkok, Tolentino says, “We’re responding to the venue at the Alliance Francaise as this will be performed in the cafe space, not the auditorium. Everything will be stripped to install the work. The piece is meant for travel and responds to unconventional staging, so it will be different, especially because we’re bringing it back to a Thai audience.”
After Bangkok, “Unwrapping Culture” will be staged in Manila, and next year in Canada.
 
CURTAIN UP
- “Unwrapping Culture” will be performed at 7.30pm on Friday and Saturday at Cafe 1912 at the Alliance Fran็aise. 
- Tickets cost Bt400 (Bt300 for students and members). Call (02) 670 4233 or check AFThailande.org. 
 
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