By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation
The year of the dog will soon leave us, and since we still haven’t heard any good news about our general election, let’s stay on that tone and begin with a piece of sad news.
After more than a decade of being home to cutting-edge dance and theatre performances of many different styles and with various contents, in addition to workshops and other events not just for the collective of artists who run it, Democrazy Theatre Studio in Soi Saphan Khu off Rama IV Road, has closed its doors. The collective with the same name remains intact though and is operating at full force. In one piece of good news, Democrazy’s latest production “The Retreat”, which premiered at and was co-produced by Bangkok Art and Culture Centre’s (BACC) 7th Performative Art Festival (PAF), has been invited to Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting (TPAM) in Yokohama, Asia’s largest gathering of international producers and presenters, next February.
"Gala" by Jerome Bel
I’m not the only theatre-goer who will also miss eating at the unique Beijing-style Chinese restaurant near Democrazy. I’m also not the only one whose memory of B-Floor Theatre’s “Sawan Arcade”, a solo performance by Ornanong Thaisriwong last January is still fresh.
"The Retreat" by Democrazy Theatre
The experience of entering the studio space in total darkness and not knowing what we’re stepping on is unforgettable – and it’s not a mere theatrical gimmick. It also shows how directors and designers who’ve been using this small studio make sure that they’re having fun with it and using it in the best way to fit their works. B-Floor has submitted this work for presentation at the Theatertreffen’s Stuckemarkt in Berlin next May, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed at press time.
"God of Carnage" by New Theatre Society
It’s noteworthy that after the closing of B-Floor Room at the Pridi Banomyong Institute in late 2017, Thailand’s premier physical theatre collective has been homeless. However, their work-in-progress presentation of “Trance” at the Goethe-Institut auditorium and the revival of “Manoland”, the curtain raiser of Bangkok Theatre Festival (BTF) 2018 at BACC, which is soon to be seen in Tokyo, prove that they’re still a major force and that they can adjust their performance to fit different spaces. The fact that this year Teerawat Mulvilai joined his coartistic director as a Silpathorn artist is further evidence. This is notwithstanding the fact that this year we’ve seen B-Floor members on screen and in other companies’ works more frequently.
Another performance space that has closed after only a year of operation is Syrup the Space near the New Phetchaburi Road end of Soi Thonglor. And this proves that not all corners of this commercially bustling area is prime location, especially when its parking lot makes you feel like you’re in a horror movie at the end of the evening performance.
"Make Love Not War" by Circle Theatre
Meanwhile at the other end of the same soi, Thong Lor Art Space (TLAS), while less prolific this year and rumoured to have an uncertain future, has delighted audiences with the revival of veteran playwright Daraka Wongsiri’s “Crimson Rose”, featuring many commendable performances by female actors, as well as New Theatre Society’s deft tradaptation of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage”, with a to-die-for acting foursome. In November, the audience also enjoyed Cocoism’s “Still Air”, whose trip here was made possible with the support from Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture (MOC) and Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Thailand (TECOT). To keep a good balance in cultural exchange, a month before TLAS’s mixed media performance “Bloom/Wilt/Beauty”, Silpathorn artist and playwright Nikorn Saetang’s collaboration with Japanese florist Takashi Okito seen here in March, was at the TuaTiuTiann International Festival of Arts in the Taiwan capital. With Taiwan’s southbound policy, we can expect this twoway traffic in cultural exchanges for years to come.
Protreptic by Despina Zacharopoulou - MAI's "A Possible Island"
Early in the year, Chang Theatre, in Thung Khru district of Thon Buri, announced a year-long programme by the Pichet Klunchun Dance Company but unfortunately that was derailed by a serious injury suffered by a member of the troupe. Otherwise, the theatre has offered several good opportunities to see not only works from the repertoire like “Pichet Klunchun and Myself” and “Black and White”, before their new work next year, but also new work like Jerome Bel’s “Gala” which questions both the meaning and purpose of dance and who can dance by working with a unique ensemble of performers and non-performers. The theatre received substantial support from the Culture Ministry’s Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture (OCAC) for some productions but not others. The free-admission shows made it quite confusing for the audience to decide which show they should watch and many are wondering why contemporary performing arts works that receive government support cannot charge for tickets. Pichet himself was constantly prolific; working with FrenchLao choreographer Ole Kamchanla in “Negotiation” in France, and later on another new work at Festival/Tokyo. Thanks to Taiwan’s MOC and TECOT, his collaboration with Taiwanese artist Chen Wu Kang on an intercultural dance dialogue titled “Behalf” can be seen next year not only in Taiwan and Thailand, but also in France and Belgium.
"Primo" by Alfredo Zinola and Felipe Gonzalez
The trend of staging performance in art galleries has gathered steam over the last year. In addition to Yelo House, near BACC, and Buffalo Bridge Gallery, near the Saphan Khwai intersection, a few others have joined the cause, although some are so far away from the main road or a BTS/MRT station that they turned off theatre-goers. And with this trend, there’s a small yet noteworthy attempt to bridge the gap between visual and performing arts, as new collective of drama graduates Circle Theatre’s “Make Love, Not War” was a small exhibition by day and an oneact play by night at BACC.
While the closing of the three-screen complex Lido was sad news for film lovers, word is that it’s being renovated as a small cultural centre, with a movie theatre, a concert hall and a blackbox theatre. That sounds like a silver lining for theatre makers, except some sceptics are already voicing concern that the last one may not bring as much income as the other two, especially in such a prime location where the landlord focuses on maximising profits.
As many have predicted, it’s relatively quiet in the large playhouses at the moment and the only notable new musical is Dreambox’s “Son” at M Theatre.
"Son", a new musical by Dreambox
In fact, the infrastructure problem of contemporary Thai performing arts has been a major issue for years and perhaps it’s time for OCAC to step in and effectively solve this, the same way their foreign counterparts have been doing. Let’s hope that the new theatre complex behind Thailand Cultural Centre will be an answer and let’s not forget that artists also need rehearsal studios to create their works not just stages to perform on.
In terms of festivals, the second edition of the biannual Bangkok’s International Children’s Theatre Festival (BICTfest), by Arts on Location and Democrazy, was joyful, and not just for kids. With strong support from the French Embassy, Goethe Institut, Japan Foundation and BACC, audiences watched performances, while practitioners attended workshops and seminars, from many countries. This is yet more proof that when cultural organisations join forces, instead of curating their own festivals like our MOC, the impact is stronger.
"Pratthana" by Chelfitsch Theatre
In a breakup of sorts in the making, last year BTF and Bangkok’s International Performing Arts Meeting (BIPAM) were organised by the same team. That wasn’t the case this year, although the latter, drawing more regional producers in 2018, was scheduled in the former’s final week. Next year, BIPAM will precede BTF, making sure that international producers can stay on to watch more performances and network with more colleagues.
A major surprise was “A Possible Island?” consisting of eight eight-hour durational performances by the Marina Abramovic Institute (MAI), as part of the inaugural Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB) at BACC, which saw audience numbers break records for both MAI and BACC, and even sparked a rumour that the Serbian master herself will return to perform here. It’s evident that Thai arts audiences are more open-minded than many think and that, like in many countries, galleries and museums are no longer exclusively for visual arts, and that interdisciplinary collaboration is not simply a trend, but a way forward.
"Manoland" by B-Floor Theatre
There have been more significant international collaborations than before, thanks to support from, for example, the Wa project of Japan Foundation’s Asia Centre and Saison Foundation. The year’s most exciting stage work was clearly “Pratthana—A Portrait of Possession”, internationally acclaimed Japanese playwright and director Toshiki Okada’s stage adaptation of Silpathorn writer and SEA Write laureate Uthis Haemamool’s 2017 novel “Rang Khong Pratthana” (“Silhouette of Desire”). The play, with a Thai cast and a Japanese crew, premiered at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts in August and was staged at Centre Pompidou as part of Festival d’automne a Paris. It will be in Tokyo next year.
Last but never least, our thanks go to all the artists whose limitless creativity and experimental spirit keep our stages alive throughout most of the year. We will continue to support your work and let’s work together, hopefully with government support, to not only develop the infrastructure for performing arts but also audiences.