Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Rak and roll

There is more controversy over Ramakien: A Rak Opera, which was performed last month at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts in New York.

The rock-opera adaptation of Thailand's national epic first became controversial after two stars, Krisada "Noi" Sukosol and Sek Loso got into a fight during the performance, but now it's in hot water with Ministry of Culture watchdogs who say the production was disrespectful of Thai traditional arts and dance.

Organizers of the production held a news conference yesterday in Bangkok to explain themselves, with coverage by both the Bangkok Post and The Nation.

The furore is over the act of a dancer stepping over another performer who was wearing a khon mask, which is considered a sacrilegious act because the mask is a depiction of a god. The masks are used in traditional Thai dance, or khon, productions.

Choreographer Pichet Klunchuen said the production was a contemporary dance performance, not a khon performance, and that the two distinct styles shouldn't be confused.

"We did not perform a khon dance," Pichet was quoted as saying the Post's story. "We used the story of Ramakien to create a new form of stage performance. The mask was not a traditional khon mask. It was my own creation specifically for the show."

Pichet, one of this year's Silpathorn Award honorees - an award given to living contemporary artists by the Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture, should know: He's also extensively studied khon dance.

"Introducing contemporary art by Thai artists at the Lincoln Center, one of the world's prominent art institutes, for us was an interesting metaphor," artistic director Rirkrit Tiravanija was quoted as saying by The Nation. He added that Ramakien: A Rak Opera might be performed again in Los Angeles. "The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre in Los Angeles are interested in this production," he said.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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