Two Greats Take Thailand’s Power Struggle to the Stage in Dance

Sulak Sivaraksa discusses their upcoming performance Wednesday with Pichet Klunchun at his Bangkok home. Photo: Siriwan Sripenchan

BANGKOK — An insurgent dance artist and outspoken intellectual, masters from different worlds within the same kingdom, will take the stage later this month as Hindu god and servant locked in the immortal struggle over power.

In addition to being a provocative commentator on taboo subjects, social commentator Sulak Sivaraksa knows a step or two of traditional dance. For his 83rd birthday, the royalist-cum-royal critic will take a divine role in a traditional masked dance drama with top three artists, including the nation’s best known contemporary dancer, Pichet Klunchun.

Unsurprisingly, there is a political dimension to the March 26 performance, a Khon production choreographed to reflect Thailand’s social turmoil through the myths underpinning the national narrative.

“This performance is a mirror to reflect the image that has been repeated again and again in Thai society,” said Pichet Klunchun. “Which is building legitimacy by claiming to be a good person beyond reproach.”

As with most Khon, the story is taken from the national epic, Ramakien. Inspired by “Narai Prab Nontok” (Narai Subdues Nontok), their version has been updated to the current situation under the name “Prach Thon Thook” (Suffering Intellectual.)

“Narai Prab Nontok is a perfect story to reflect Thai society both in the past and present,” Pichet said. “It was about the classes, the obsession with power that does not belong to you, passion and vindictiveness.”

In the original, servant Nontok was bullied by all the gods he served. In order to protect himself, Nontok asked for a magic finger that is able to kill anyone by pointing at them but ended up overusing it. The god Narai then disguised himself as a beautiful woman to kill Nontok. The servant thinks the fight is unfair, so they agree to a fair fight in the mortal world, which is the beginning of the whole epic derived from the Hindu Ramayana.

Sulak stars as Narai with Pichet in the role of Nontok. Two other veteran artists, painter Thepsiri Suksopha and Silpathorn-winning performer Pradit Prasatthong, will also be part of the production.

Despite his fame – or infamy – for criticizing the monarchy he also supports, Sulak has a strong passion for the performing arts and has been involved in past traditional dance projects.

Pichet, long scorned by Khon traditionalists for fusing it with contemporary movement, mostly performed abroad for many years. In recent years, he’s become more widely embraced at home. He received a Silpathorn Award, Thailand’s highest cultural distinction, in 2006.

About half of the seats have been reserved for the show, with another 100 or so seats being sold for 500 baht.

Revenues will be donated to a Cross Cultural Foundation fund called “We Are All Billy” which aims to help Thailand’s disenfranchized populations and is named for disappeared and presumed dead Karen activist Porlachee "Billy” Rakchongcharoen.

The one-time performance begins at 6:45pm on March 26 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Resevations can be made by phone at 086-763-6644 or e-mail at [email protected].

 

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Photo: Siriwan Sripenchan

 

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