By Lisnaree Vichitsorasatra
“What do you think that looks like?” Pichet Klunchun, the contemporary khon artist and provocateur asks the audience, pointing to a large yellow object. “It’s a toilet seat.”
The long, yellow oval stage stood in the center of the theater. It looked like a water slide, or perhaps the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz. Or, okay, maybe a toilet seat. We’re at Chang Theater on Bangkok’s Prachauthit Road. Pichet works here and lives next door.
Dancers move as if to electronic music, but the music begins with a folk song from the Phi Ta Khon festival in Loei province.
The five dancers stick their tongues out mid-trance, but unlike Miley Cyrus, they wipe their mouths and close them again. They shake like they are possessed by ghosts, dropping dramatically to the ground. A dancer moves dangerously close to the edge of the stage but pulls herself back at the last moment. It ends about an hour later with what sounds like a hospital patient flat-lining.
Performers try to find their way out of the cycle of suffering in a dance inspired by the Phi Ta Khon festival. Photo: Courtesy of Pichet Klunchun
“It’s like fish being pounded,” he said of a scene where the ghost-dancers shake and fall to the floor. After death, they wake up and enter a trance-like stage, moving in slow motion.
After a year’s break, Pichet Klunchun, known for his controversial, contemporary take on khon, or traditional Thai dance, is back. His new production is based on the Phi Ta Khon festival, which despite sharing the word khon and using masks, is entirely different. On a recent Saturday he staged a preview of his new performance, “Dancing with Death.”
Meefund clip on Dancing with Death: