Dance Curating in Asia
Text: Pawit Mahasarinand
In a Southeast Asian country where there are a countless number of dance studios, mostly in department stores, yet only a handful of dance departments at tertiary academic institutions, professional choreographers or dance companies, it is probably not surprising that there are currently only three notable dance festivals. One of these is genre-specific, completely privately-run and held in the final quarter of the year and none presents traditional Thai dance works. Taking them in the order in which they were founded, they are Bangkok’s
International Festival of Dance and Music, or BIFDM, (www.bangkokfestivals.com); International Dance Festival, aka IDF, (www.facebook.com/Internationaldancefestival); and Unfolding Kafka Festival (www.unfoldingkafkafestival.com).
「發現卡夫卡」藝術節Red Peter Unfolding Kafka Festival Red Peter／攝 Photo：Rob Hogeslag
Organized by International Cultural Promotions (ICP), BIFDM started just before the turn of the millennium and now claims to be “the largest and the only annual event in Thailand which gets such substantial and sustained publicity,” In its pre-pandemic heyday it presented more than 20 programmes, all from overseas, including classical ballet and contemporary dance along with classical opera, music, contemporary jazz and magic shows, over a span of six weeks at a single venue, the 1,612-seat main hall of the Thailand Cultural Centre. The festival committee comprises mostly corporate executives who give financial support to the festival; there is neither an artistic committee nor a curator and programmes are either hand-picked by ICP executives or recommended by foreign embassies partnering with the festival. As a result, while the Mariinsky Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company and Nederlands Dans Theater have graced this grand stage, so have Ballet on Ice and Russian Multimedia Ballet Theatre. It is also noteworthy that in this “Kitchen of the World” city where a delectable dish of Phad Thai costs THB 50 (HKD 11.50), your THB 1,800 (HKD 417) ticket only gave you a seat in the second balcony to watch Swan Lake by the 'multimedia' company in the festival’s abbreviated 2021 edition. What’s more, you had to be fully vaccinated, although at that time most Thai people had only had their first dose of the vaccine.
By contrast, the other two festivals are much smaller in scale and run for only a few weeks, their venues vary - the latest edition of Unfolding Kafka in 2019 was held in Chiang Mai as well as Bangkok - and tickets are more affordable. Another significant difference is that they also present and produce local dance works as well as organizing workshops and supporting intercultural collaborations.
Started in 2001 by Dance Centre: School of Performing Arts and later run by its subsidiary Friends of the Arts Foundation, IDF is the brainchild of veteran dance teacher and choreographer Vararom Pachimsawat who almost single-handedly curates it, with support from foreign embassies and cultural institutions in addition to venues like Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) and Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts. Among the past offerings are Protein Dance’s LOL (lots of love) and Niv and Oren’s Two Room Apartment. Due to the pandemic lockdowns, the festival took a break in 2020 and focused on dance therapy and disability workshops in the following year.
國際舞蹈節International Dance Festival Two Room Apartment ／攝 Photo：Gadi Dagon
Led by mid-career choreographer and artistic director of 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre Jitti Chompee, whose past works were part of IDF before he started Unfolding Kafka in 2015, this multi-disciplinary biannual festival is more cutting-edge than the other two. Various themes of Kafka’s works are explored through contemporary dance, including nouveau cirque, by artists such as Isabelle Schad and Le Jardin des Délices, in addition to art installations, films and virtual reality as Chompee and the festival’s partners like to keep their options open. The festival skipped 2021 because of the pandemic and there is no news yet as to when the next edition will take place.
Unlike many of their counterparts around the world, none of these three festivals went online or hybrid to explore new ways to connect with their audiences during the unusual period when many of us were allowed to go out only for the basic necessities of life. If integration is a keyword for many successful solutions during and following the pandemic, one wonders whether the government can step in to suggest how these three festivals, and other emerging ones, can work together. A silver lining is that ‘festival’ is one of the ‘5 fs’ Thailand’s culture ministry is currently promoting as high-potential elements of culture, along with food, film, fashion and fighting; not so silvery is the fact that mega-events and festivals are being prioritized. This suggests that BIFDM would benefit the most and the economic gap among audiences would only get wider.
In the end, the greatest challenge of all may be the public appreciation of dance and the festival organizers’ recognition of it. In this developing democratic country, dance, like any contemporary arts discipline, should belong to everyone, not only those who can afford dance class fees or performance tickets. It is a means of free expression, requiring technical as well as conceptual skills, and not merely through short video clips of cover dance posted on TikTok, now that studios have started to offer online classes for TikTok dance. In this favourite destination for international tourists, which has never closed its borders to foreign visitors throughout its 800-year history, foreign cultures have played a significant role in developing Thailand’s traditionality as well as its modernity and contemporaneity and hence it is essential that dancers, choreographers, festival organizers and audiences see the connections between them. That sounds like a lot of work ahead, but after a two-year hiatus that has enabled us to re-think, it’s time to re-start.
自2001年起，由表演藝術學院舞蹈中心（及後改由它附屬的藝術之友基金會）舉辦的國際舞蹈節，是資深舞蹈老師和編舞家Vararom Pachimsawat的心血結晶，她差不多以一人之力策展，並取得外國領事館、文化機構，以及曼谷藝術文化中心和Sodsai Pantoomkomol劇場藝術中心等場地的協助。過往呈現的作品包括蛋白質舞蹈團的《LOL (lots of love)》和Niv & Oren的《Two Room Apartment》。由於疫情，舞蹈節在2020年停辦一年，在接著一年轉而聚焦在舞蹈治療與傷健人士的舞蹈工作坊上。「發現卡夫卡」由中生代編舞家、18 Monkeys舞蹈劇場藝術總監Jitti Chompee於2015年發起，此前，Chompee的作品曾在國際舞蹈節上演。「發現卡夫卡」是個跨領域的雙年節，比前面兩個藝術節更前衛。
國際舞蹈節 International Dance Festival Muet ／照片由Jitti Chompee提供Photo provided by Jitti Chompee）
Chompee和藝術節的伙伴們希望保持開放的表現形式，去探索卡夫卡作品中不同主題，除藝術家諸如Isabelle Schad和Le Jardin des Délices曾以現代舞——包括新馬戲——的形式進行探索，還有裝置藝術，電影或虛擬現實等其他形式。由於疫情，藝術節在2021年停辦，至今尚未知何時會舉行下一屆。
在這個許多人只能外出安置日常所需的非一般時期，以上三個藝術節並未如世上其他藝術節一般，改為線上或混合線上線下形式，或尋求新的方法，與它們的觀眾連結。如果融合是面對疫情／後疫情時代不少解方的成功要素，政府或者可以介入，建議這三個藝術節，和其他正在發展的藝術節，如何互相協助。困境中的一線希望，是泰國文化部將藝術 (festival) 節視為能夠推廣文化的五個高潛力項目的其中一環，其餘分別為食物 (food)、電影 (film)、時裝 (fashion) 和搏擊 (fighting)，合稱「5F」；但不太樂觀的是，大型活動和節慶被視為優先支持項目。這意味著曼谷國際音樂舞蹈節將從中獲益最大，而觀眾的經濟差距將會再拉闊。
Pawit Mahasarinand is a member of IATC’s Executive Committee and former director of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) and Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts.