Thursday, April 09, 2020

A modern take on old traditions

Jun 12. 2019
Dhipaya Art of Siam is back for its second year at The National Theatre on August 25.
Dhipaya Art of Siam is back for its second year at The National Theatre on August 25.
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By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul

The Dhipaya Art of Siam project once again brings together various performing art forms for a new show in August

Many forms of performing arts in Thailand are under threat today. Considered old-fashioned and irrelevant to the modern lifestyle, they fail to ignite young people’s interest. That started to change last year when the Dhipaya Art of Siam project was launched with the aim of bringing these art forms back to life and keeping them current. 

“I shed tears of pleasure when I saw the show,” recalls Watchanee Mesamarn, an expert in Thai dramatic arts at the College of Dramatic Arts for 45 years and senior adviser for this show. 


“I was surprised that Dr Somporn [Suebthawilkul, managing director of the main sponsor, Dhipaya Insurance] was so interested in Thai performing arts that he put on Hanuman’s costume and performed on stage between acts. Today I’m more confident than ever that these Thai performing arts will not completely disappear.”


Nives “Nueng” Waewsamana, the founder of Baan Tookkatoon Hoonkrabok Thai, agrees. “First of all, I would like to thank the main sponsor bringing forgotten Thai performing arts back to life again. It is very important that conservation and development go hand in hand. We must open our minds and accept the consequences of change. Dhipaya Art of Siam is a stage that can support Thai performing arts to be more sustainable.”


Surin “Kru Klae” Yangkhiaosod, a descendant of the original Joe Louis Traditional Thai Puppet Theatre, is all in favour of the initiative, noting that it’s a good opportunity to mix science and art on the same stage.

Dhipaya Art of Siam was created in 2018 by artist Sobchai “Ford” Griyoonsen, the founder of 9 Fox Entertainment, in collaboration with Dhipaya Insurance. Bringing together several forms of traditional arts in one performance, the project launched with “Peree Prab Arin” or “Peree conquers the Greatest Enemy” and focused on the fight between heavenly beings and demons. It introduced two newly created leading characters, Peree and Phaya Vanarin, a white monkey. The plot of the first show was newly written and included good thoughts and morals as well as sacrifice. Fortunately – and quite unexpectedly – the response was excellent and tickets for all four rounds of the show sold out.


“I’ve had the chance to be associated with many Thai arts such as khon (masked dance) and puppets and the idea of gathering all of them into one show came into my head. It isn’t easy to see performances of such Thai arts as sword and pole fighting and puppets these days. Kru Klae [Surin Yangkhiaosod], called it ‘prasarnsilp’ (coordination of the arts). It is a fusion of Thai arts with a newly created story and has no negative effect on traditional Thai arts,” Ford Sobchai tells The Nation. 


“I have co-written a new plot with Kru Nat [Jira Mesamarn], who is the performance director. He is also a director of the Buddhaisawan Sword Fighting Institute in Kanchanaburi and was action director on many period movies such as ‘The Legend of Suriyothai’ and ‘King Naresuan’. We read many textbooks about purana in Indian literature before coming up with the story.

“We had less time putting things together for the first show and didn’t want to take the risk of defaming traditional Thai arts. So, we selected to write a new story but based on the characters from khon and literature. This year, we have had much more time and that allowed us to read and watch the Ramayana and the Ramakien and select some interesting parts that connect with our new plot. We’ve also benefited from the advice of Watchanee Mesamarn at the Fine Arts Department,” he adds.


“It was not without its challenges,” Jira acknowledges. “Due to the limitations of Thailand’s classical high art form khon, we maintained the origins of the storyline, dialogue and music, but we made it more colourful by showing both dimensions of Phra Ram. In khon, he maintains his traditional costume but in Indian movies about the Ramayana, he is shown as a human. The two characters are portrayed by different performers. It gives the story more flavour to have Phra Ram performing khon and as a stuntman,” he explains. 


This second show, which is being staged at The National Theatre on August 25, is titled “Suek Haeng Ong Ramavatar” (“The Battle of Ramavatar”), and is loosely based on the Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic derived from the Hindu epic Ramayana and khon.


Sobchai and Jira have brought together a strong production team and cast and written new songs. The performance, they say, will be bigger the better than the first, featuring 10 acts from the birth of Tossakan to the triumph of Phra Ram.


“Members of the public and even young people will have no trouble understanding the language. There is a variety of music too, ranging in genres from traditional Thai music and Western music to rock and hip hop. I am confident that this second show will be more exciting than the debut,” says Jira. 


“We have plenty of surprises for the audience and more special effects such as slings, lasers and stage bombs. We will see greater audience participation too.”

Sobchai agrees, adding: “Our show will be more colourful with good sound and lighting and graphics. The story is newly written but based on the structure of the Ramakien with its original characters. However, we will introduce Phra Ram, Phra Lak and Nang Sida in human form before they transform into their heavenly selves in a performance of Thai classical masked dance khon. It will also feature two bands, Rohitajol and Phetch Jaras Saeng, the latter a very popular contemporary ensemble with a tight schedule but who has generously found time to take part in this show. 

Dhipaya Art of Siam will later go on tour to major Thai cities including Khon Kaen and Chiang Mai, and also part in the world puppet festival.

“I call it a ‘playground of Thai arts’. We don’t only encourage young Thais to become interested in Thai arts but are also making these Thai arts more sustainable,” says Ford.

On a stage near you

- “Dhipaya Art of Siam: Suek Haeng Ong Ramavatar” will be staged at The National Theatre on August 25 at 1pm and 5pm.

- Admission is free, but tickets should be reserved by calling (094) 256 9615.

- Audience members must wear yellow shirts in honour of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn. 


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