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A different dance genre

The International Dance Festival returns to Bangkok - but Chiang Mai is not forgotten

Publication Date : 16-11-2012


The International Dance Festival returns to Bangkok - but Chiang Mai is not forgotten


Last year's edition of the Friends of the Arts Foundation's International Dance Festival was moved to Chiang Mai due to the flooding in Bangkok, but, "It turned out surprisingly well," says festival director Vararom Pachimsawat.

"Despite our focus on contemporary dance, which doesn't have a strong audience base to begin with in comparison to other dance genres, many people turned up, and as many as 80 dance artists and students joined a workshop.

"I think in Bangkok there are always many events and festivals going on at the same time, and that's why IDF hasn't been able to create the same kind of buzz as it did last year in Chiang Mai.

"We were there for three weeks and were able to develop a good relationship with institutions like Chiang Mai University, which will be our host again this year. In Bangkok we have new partners like Chulalongkorn University, which will host a production, a panel discussion and many master classes, apart from the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, which is our main partner-venue.

"On the downside, we have fewer commercial sponsors but we're lucky to have a new supporter, Aetas Lumpini, which will also host a fund-raising event for dance scholarships on November 26."

The festival opens next Friday as part of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre's Performance Festival No 1 with "Dhamma Da: Dance Mind 4D" in the new fourth-floor studio.

Vararom has developed this new contemporary-dance work from her experiences studying dharma in a temple. Sinnapa Sarasas composed the music and designed the sound, and the cast includes khon master Chulachart Arunyanak and veteran modern dancers May Yimsai and Rangsima Boonsinsuk.

"I came to realise that studying dharma is much better than going on holiday overseas. It also made me much calmer, although I still speak very fast. You may have already noticed in the programme that two senior monks are the production advisers."

Vararom gave the idea of "Dhamma Da" to three foreign choreographers, who experimented with it during the 2010 festival, but, she says, "The message that came out of it wasn't clear, so I think I should take it forward myself."

Vararom explains the 4D aspect. "It's like a room in which viewers go through a series of emotional tests. But by saying a room, I don't mean an actual theatre, but each individual mind.

"In other words, they are actively part of the performance - mentally, not physically. This is like the Buddhist teaching that instructs us to always be fully conscious in whatever we're doing.

The following evening, veteran dancer and choreographer Rina Scenfeld and her company perform "Dancing Bach". Having helped put Israel on the modern-dance map, this former member of the Batsheva Dance Company is known as "the Princess of Israeli Dance".

"I met her in Tel Aviv in 2006 when the Embassy of Israel invited me to 'Exposure to Israeli Dance' there," Vararom says. "Thanks to the embassy, she made her first IDF appearance a year later when we were at Benjasiri Park. Besides performing with her company this time, she'll also give a talk and a workshop. She's worked with stage props for all her life and so it will be a good opportunity for theatre students to learn her theatrical tricks too."

On November 25, Switzerland's T42 Dance Projects returns with "The Shadow Game".

The double-bill on November 27 features "Zen Dance" from South Korea's Sun Ock Lee and Singapore's Odyssey Dance Theatre with "Art of Faking".

"The former, also, was supposed to join us last year but we had to cancel them; the latter is joining us for the first time," Vararom adds.

On November 29, India's Samudra Dance Company performs "Jalam", which is, according to The Hindu newspaper, "a seamless blend of Kalaripayuttu, Bharatanatyam and yoga".

Another highlight is the Southeast Asia premiere of Protein Dance's "LOL: Lots of Love", with three shows on three days after Loy Krathong at the Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts. The British Council is hosting the troupe, which was last year named Best Independent Dance Company by the Dance Critics' Circle.

Bangkok will be only the second city in Asia, after Beirut, to witness the dance theatre that The Guardian described as "Human connection on virtual speed, exhilarating and funny."

Vararom notes, "It's a simple idea but with such unique creativity - I think that's very British."

Another local work in the first two weekends of December is 18 Dance Theatre's "Muet" at the P Tendercool Gallery in Soi Charoenkrung 30, Bangkok and later at the 137 Pillars House in Chiang Mai. This contemporary dance interpretation of a Ramakien story of friendship is a rework of Jitti Chompee's "18 Monkeys" - so highly acclaimed and frequently staged that it became the name of this troupe - featuring new music by Berlin-based composer Dirk P Haubrich, who worked for Nederlands Dans Theater.

During the days, there are many free events like talks with the artists and screenings of dance films as well as workshops. There are also master classes for experienced dancers and choreographers at Chulalongkorn University for reasonable fees.

On late evenings after the curtains come down, all are welcome to show their moves at a few "Club Night" events.

Chiang Mai audiences will get to watch about half of the Bangkok shows and attend many workshops and master classes - except for "Zen Dance", "Art of Faking", "Jalam" and "LOL", which will not fly north.

The International Dance Festival runs from November 23 to December 9 in Bangkok and from December 1 to 11 in Chiang Mai.

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