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Publication Date : 30-10-2012
Two Sundays ago I had to check with the staff at the Thailand Cultural Centre during the interval of "Tango Legends", the final performance in Bangkok's 14th International Festival of Dance and Music because the hall was warmer than usual. I was told there was nothing wrong with the air-conditioning.
So it must have been the thoroughly sultry and frequently acrobatic moves of the Argentinean tango dancers onstage. It's not the first time the festival ended with a tango performance, but this time it was truly fiery.
Led by multiple-award-winning co-founders and artistic directors Mariela Maldonado and Pablo Sosa, the troupe of six pairs of dancers showed strong chemistry as well as immense mutual trust as they exhibited different styles. They kept surprising the audience with highly technical and immensely risky moves that we rarely see in tango here.
The first part, "Tiempo de Guapos", was set in a club, and the dancers slipped on and off the stage to change costumes after they finished each set, so the atmosphere was really like that of a club. This set-up worked better than the second part, "Tango Legends", with its more modern styles of dance in a more straightforward presentation of the music ensemble, singer and dancers, whose energy and playfulness eclipsed that of the other two.
And that brought the curtain down for the 14th annual edition of Bangkok's International Festival of Music and Dance. Every time I saw a memorable performance by great foreign artists, I wondered if they had time to share insights and experience with local performers and students, who could never fully develop their skills simply by watching and listening.
Overall, the buzz of this year's festival was quieter than last year, despite a slightly new look in the poster and publication designs and short (obviously too short) trailers on the festival's website. The festival's Facebook page is up, but it has fewer friends and likes than most casual users, and that's a sign that the festival is not really communicating with its target group.
Of course it's impossible to top last year, when the Mariinsky Ballet performed three different programmes. None in this year's attractions could draw that kind of attention. So how long will the festival rest on the current format, with classical ballet, opera, contemporary dance, jazz, Indian dance and Spanish dance or tango? It's far too predictable and doesn't attract as many viewers.
Meanwhile, most festivals around the world are commissioning new works and putting local artists onstage. How long can our festival continue to give the cold shoulder to Thai artists while failing to create new shows?
It should be noted, too, that this year saw more audience members chatting on their phones and taking photos of the performances, with no ushers around to stop them. I hope this isn't an indication that - after 14 years and more than 100 festival shows - we still don't know how to attend a performing-arts event.