Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Abstraction in the moves

Sep 17. 2016
Benjamin Tardif and Carlo Camagni perform in the workshop version of 'Red Peter' in June at the Korzo theatre in The Hague. Photo/18 Monkeys Dance Theatre
Benjamin Tardif and Carlo Camagni perform in the workshop version of 'Red Peter' in June at the Korzo theatre in The Hague. Photo/18 Monkeys Dance Theatre
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By Pawit Mahasarinand

Special to The Nation

Veteran choreographer Jitti Chompee finds both inspiration and support from the Netherlands for his latest dance experiment
The number of contemporary dance companies in this country can still be counted on one hand and they also have plenty in common, not least the desire to explore the relationship between modernity and tradition at the heart of contemporary Thailand.
It’s a theme loved by audiences and producers both here and overseas, which makes it hard to understand why Thailand’s Culture Ministry seems determined to focus solely on the preservation of tradition.
Jitti Chompee and his 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre have not strayed from this theme and his latest work “Red Peter” is a highlight of this weekend’s performing arts calendar.
“Leo Spreksel, director of the Korzo Theatre in The Hague, approached me with the idea of a residency programme after he saw photographs of my ‘Demon in Venice’, which was staged inside an empty swimming pool,” says Jitti. 
“During my visit to the Netherlands, I was inspired by visual arts that depict striking images, including De Bruyckere’s sculptures. I was especially intrigued by the abstractness of human bodies in his sculptures, which still resemble natural human positions. From these, I’ve designed shapes and positions of the dancers’ bodies, both individually and with one another. Cubism also stimulated me to experiment with creating distorted images, including headless bodies. Besides, Spreksel is interested in my incorporation of traditional Thai elements with contemporary choreography, and has given me freedom to further experiment with this.”
If the title sounds familiar and not unlike Jitti’s recent works, it’s because he was also inspired by Kafka’s |“A Report to the Academy”. 
“This is a short story about an|ape who learned |to behave like a human. I see clear links between this character and the monkey character type in khon (traditional masked dance), so I decided to work with a dancer trained in the monkey role. I don’t want to show off any khon techniques, though. I don’t have any formula that dictates the percentage of khon or Western contemporary dance that needs to be there. I’m more intrigued by how the dancer can present the human-monkey image without his khon mask, purely through physical transformation.”
Jitti worked closely with his two dancers in The Hague residency, Benjamin Tardif and Carlo Camagni, in developing the new work.
“Inspired by De Bruyckere’s sculpture, Benjamin and Carlo experimented with moving in synchronisation while being attached at different body parts. As they were exploring different ways to move, I would observe the body placements that worked between their height and shape differences, and then pick moments that I found striking.
“It was a very successful creation and [world renowned choreographer] Jiri Kylian was so pleased that he decided to support me through his foundation to further develop choreography and share my ideas with the European dance community. Most dancers and choreographers very much liked the presentation, especially how we used the space, creating sound from the water trap, and dancing on earth and grass with simple lighting. They also appreciated how we developed the Thai traditional dance in such a way that it looked pure and was never cliched.
“It is also a great honour, one which I’d never imagined possible for me and my company, to have this immense support from such an internationally revered choreographer.”
Back home in Bangkok, Jitti has more dancers of whom he says, “Anucha Sumaman and Benjamin have been trained in classical Thai dance and so I’ve been able to push them even further to get a better awareness of their bodies and the space. The other dancers, Nicharee Khawsam-ang and Krittin Kiatmetha, have worked with the company so they understand the style and the recurring themes.
“And since I'm here, I'm also inspired by the environment and it influences the way I use the space. The stage, covered with powered coconut shell, is like an organic installation that reflects nature.”
- “Red Peter” is at Bangkok CityCity Gallery on Soi Sathorn 1  (MRT: Lumphini), from Thursday to Sunday at 7.30pm.
- Tickets are Bt800 (Bt350 for students) at (081) 969 6160.
- The performance moves next month to Hanoi’s Opera House and will be staged again in February at CaDance Festival in The Hague.
- Find out more at 

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