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Drama in the dance

The traditional performing art of likay comes to downtown Bangkok this weekend

Publication Date : 19-07-2012

 

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) continues to promote its "Miracle Year" campaign this weekend by offering Bangkok audiences a chance to enjoy the traditional performing art of likay (folk operatta) in the courtyard of Siam Paragon.

"Likay portrays our Thai-ness," says Wiwatchai Boonyapak, the TAT's events department director. "Bringing it to a central location like Siam Paragon ensures it will be more visible."

The Paragon show, the folk-opera performance will get a boost of technology, with production designers Index Creative Village adding a moveable LED screen measuring seven metres by four metres that also creates a four-dimensional atmosphere. It's the kind of special effects more often associated with K-pop concerts than traditional dance drama.

The show, which is costing TAT 20 million baht (US$631,600), also features another two LED screens with cameras attached, allowing the audience to be involved with some scenes.

"This technological communication offers a synchronisation that is way more exciting than the original wood-and fabric backdrops used for likay," says Index Creative's Songpol Trinate, who's handling the production.

The performances, which run from tomorrow to Sunday, represent the country's four regions. They are based on two literary works, "Phra Apaimanee" from the South, which relates the adventures of the two princes Apaimanee and Srisuwan, and the classic Central story of "Khun Chang Khun Phaen", about two men fighting over a woman.

The north is represented by the folktale "Sang Thong" about a prince born in a golden conch, while the northeastern tale, "Kong Khao Noi Kha Mae", dwells on anger and hunger in a farming family.

"The hardest scene is from 'Khun Chang Khun Phaen', where Khun Phaen is reciting incantations while battling with his enemies. The audience will see fire and water on the LED screen to synchronise with the performance. Similarly, in 'Sang Thong', while Chao Ngoh recites an incantation over meat and fish, this will be synchronised with the likay performers singing and dancing. Thanks to the 4D effects, the audience will be able to touch the bubbles and feel the wind when Phra Apaimanee and his son Sinsamut float in the sea."

With likay performers usually able to make their audiences imagine the scenes through their poetic words, gestures and actions, the stars of the upcoming shows are a little worried, both at the way the event is being organised and the technological help Index Creative Village is providing.

"I'm afraid that the audience won't completely appreciate the performances because we have a limited show time of just 30 to 40 minutes, whereas a normal likay story runs for more than an hour. Worse still, people with no experience of likay may get completely the wrong impression and think that likay is really like this," says Chaiya Mitchai, the Kingdom's most famous performer, who is equally well known for decorating his costumes with Swarovski crystals imported from Italy.

Assistant professor Anukoon Rotjanasuksomboon of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts, is a guest performer and will play the title role in "Phra Apaimanee".

"Likay has evolved a great deal over the years, especially in terms of the costumes, which used to be decorated with diamonds but now are covered with crystals. Some of today's likay troupes don't focus so much on singing and dancing but communicate through luk thung (country folk) songs. Yet likay is still a way of life more than a career," says the 37-year-old Chai Nat native, who has been studying likay since 1998.

"Likay is a traditional dramatic performance that has been able to exist and make money for more than 100 years. It goes through modifications every one or two years but still keeps its originality - live shows about up-to-date stories and fashionable costumes in addition to beautiful dancing styles," says professor Surapone Virulrak, an adviser to Chulalongkorn University's Masters of Arts, Cultural Management programme. "It represents the changes and adaptations in Thai-ness as well.

Anukoon agrees. "Today, we can watch likay at temple fairs, on VCD as well as at YouTube and through websites such as 'likay fan club' or 'we love likay'. Fans can communicate on facebook. Young people are paying attention to likay."

Siam Paragon's courtyard will be transformed into a likay theatre with home-made ice cream, moulded sugar shapes, cotton candy and popcorn. Ketthip Group will stage a traditional radio play.

 

 

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