The Classical Dance Troupe of Thailand brings together classical Thai performers whose major responsibilities are to preserve, create, and disseminate the cultural heritage of the Kingdom´s performing arts. Comprising classical dancers, musicians, recitalists, and singer, along with a team of costume designers and technicians, the troupe possess an excellent knowledge of age-old performances and strong innovative approach to the art form, and thus is regarded as the best in Thailand.
With its base at the Office of Performing Arts, Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture, the troupe performs at the National Theatre in Bangkok all year round. The performances focus on court rites, national ceremonies, and customs while the performers are best known for their masked dances (Khon), drama (La Korn) and folk dances.
The Classical Dance Troupe of Thailand has been instrumental in preserving traditional Thai performing arts and in enhancing this vibrant part of the Thai heritage, making its performances widely appreciated not only in Thailand but also around the world.
The area that is today’s Thailand has played host to many civilizations over the past millennia. This performance portrays four of them, with dancers in both period costume and utilizing movements and postures drawn from archaeological evidence. They are:
− the Dvaravati period, which had its epicenter in the central plains of Thailand, generally believed to have introduced Buddhism to the region
− the Srivijaya Empire, a maritime civilization based on the southern Isthmus
− the kingdom of Lopburi, based in today’s Lopburi province, a branch of the Khmer empire in Angkor
− the kingdom of Sukhothai in Thailand’s northern central plains, renowned for its school of Buddhist art
Rāma Battles Thotsakan
Rāma Battles Thotsakan: an episode from the Ramakien Khon or classical masked dance-drama is a theatrical form dating back over 500 years, combining aspects of three older performance arts: shadow puppetry, Brahmanic court ritual, and stylized military exercise. Over the centuries these were blended together, refined and codified, until a performance art was born that became the foremost in Thailand’s royal courts. Khon today manages to adapt itself to changing tastes while still preserving the age-old characteristics that make it unique: its extensive vocabulary of gesture and movement, the distinctive leitmotifs of its music, and its gorgeous costumery. Tonight’s performance will portray one of the many battles between the hero Rāma and Thotsakan, the giant king. After the latter abducts his wife, the beautiful Sita, to hold prisoner on his island-kingdom of Longka, Rama and his younger brother Lakshman join forces with the apes Sukhreep and Hanuman, who enlist their monkey forces in Rama’s cause. Together they cross the ocean to Longka to win Sita back, but no matter how many times he faces Thotsakan in battle, Rāma can never seem to gain the upper hand.
The Sacrifice of Manohra
The Sacrifice of Manohra is a solo dance from an ancient Thai drama based on a popular Jataka tale, or story about the Lord Buddha’s previous lifetimes. In this story, the kinaree Manohra − a beautiful woman with the wings and slender legs of a bird − is beloved by the prince Suthon, and dwells in his palace with her wings stored in a royal safe. Suthon’s jealous vizier stages a plot against them by sending Suthon on a false campaign to the kingdom’s hinterland, then claims to have an ominous dream: disaster will befall the kingdom unless all animals in the royal court are sacrificed by flame. Manohra, as a non-human creature, is included in this, but when she is led to the altar, she begs for her wings so that she may sing and dance one last time in the joyous way that kinaree are wont to do. Upon retrieval of her wings, however, the crafty Manohra flies away. This performance recalls this scene.
The Nora is an ancient dance-style from southern Thailand that demands great physical strength and acrobatic flexibility. Tiny beads are threaded together to create the costumes of these performers, and are unique to this style of dance.
Fon Nok King Ka Ra
Fon Nok King Ka Ra, the delicate dance from the northern part, is the show of bird named Kin Ka Ra. Kin Ka Ra bird stand hidden meaning for the kinnaree, a half-bird half-woman imaginative creator, living on the heaven in the Buddhist epic. This perfromance brings the audience into the stage of beautiful creator when they dance to making worship for Lord Buddha during holly proceeds from the heaven into the earth.
Sounding the Drums of War
In Thailand’s northern mountains, massive drums were used to rouse the spirits of soldiers marching into war. To the accompaniment of cymbals and gongs, men vigorously beat the drums with their hands, feet, elbows, and knees to cheer their fellows into battle.
Coconut Dance of the Northeastern
A kapo is the hollow shell of a coconut, which is used as a musical instrument in this lively dance from Northeastern Thailand. The young men clap them together with the beat.
Rabam Bantern Paree
This performance is set to the beat of traditional drums, which in Thailand signal the coming of important events.
Rum Chon Kai
Rum Chon Kai, the cock fight dance, is a performace imitated a local popular recreation in the southern part of Thailand. This recreation is a kind of sport, which competitors bring thier own fighting cock and let them fight until the sign of one’s defeat. The winner for final round will get the big prize and gain a reputation among the audience. This performace shows the appearance and style of cock when they get into the competition.
A Shadow Play: Roots of Culture
The story of Thailand‘s cultural roots, which reach back over two thousand years ago to the arts and religions of India, will be told as a shadow play or chaya-nataka, an ancient form of story-telling.
Muay Thai or Thai Kickboxing
Muay Thai is a traditional martial art that has become famous all over the world. Its traditional name is Navavudh, meaning ‘nine weapons’, referring to its use of both feet, knees, fists, elbows, plus the head, in combat. One distinctive feature of the art of Muay Thai is that, before each round, the fighters engage in a ritualized dance.
Dance of the Long Drums
The Dance of the Long Drums is a folk performance from the central region of Thailand. The long drum is an instrument used on various occasions. As the men of the village beat the drums, the local women dance in a ring around them, and eventually they dance in pairs.
The Legend of Loy Kratong
On the full moon night in November, when the sky is clear after the yearly rains and the rivers are at their fullest, Thais celebrate Loy Kratong. As an offering to the generous spirit of the waters, they create floats made out of banana leaves called kratong, fill them with flowers and incense, and float them down the river, hoping the vessels will carry away the misfortunes of the past year as well. This festival dates back to the Sukhothai period of over 700 years ago. Legend has it that the king of that time had a beautiful queen, Lady Nopamas, who was talented in the arrangement of flowers.
Serng Bang Fai
The Serng Bang Fai (“fai” means ‘flame’) comes from the arid northeastern provinces of Thailand, which host at the end of April the annual rocket and firework festival meant to summon rain. At this time, the locals will dress festively and perform dances to lead the rockets in procession around town.
The Ram Vimayanathakara was inspired by the 900-year old, Khmer-era ruins of Phimai in present-day Nakhon Ratchasima province. Its Indic name, Vimaya (in Thai “Phimai”) means “paradise, celestial abode”. The movements in this dance are based on sculpural evidence left at the stone castle.
Dance of the Four Regions
Although they share a basic vocabulary and aesthetic, traditional Thai dances vary among the four regions of Thailand, which is divided into the Northern mountains, Northeastern plateau, Central plains, and Southern isthmus.
In the cool, comfortable climate of the North, where the people are noted for speaking slowly and elegantly, Thai dance is similarly characterized by slow, gentle movements.
In the Northeast, the largest and most arid of the four regions, dances consist of quick, exuberant movements accompanied by upbeat music.
In the Central plains, where Thailand’s royal capitals have been located, dances take after those performed in the royal courts, with regulated, codified movements and sumptuous apparel fit for regal audiences.
In the final region, that of the Deep South, two cultures meet: in this thin isthmus of land surrounded on both sides by water, Thai Buddhists and Thai Muslims live side-by-side. The dances here tend to be energetic, with influences from Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Sword Dance
The martial and theatric arts were closely related in ancient Thailand, and proficiency in one meant skill in another. In this dance, young men from Thailand practice using the sword by coordinating their movements with the ritualized music.
The Rice Harvest Dance
Thais have an ancient affinity with the planting and harvesting of rice. But before any of this can begin, it is believed that first one must honor Mae Phosop, the goddess of rice, and ask for her blessing. This dance will take audiences through the stages of planting rice, from sowing the first seeds to removing the grain from its husk, as well as thanking the goddess for her bounty.
Miniature Puppet Show
The art of puppet theater has existed in Thailand since the Ayutthaya period over five hundred years ago and comes in many forms. One of these is the miniature puppet show, in which three people are needed to maneuver a single puppet. The plots for these plays are usually taken from works of classical literature.
For our performance, we have selected an episode from the Ramakien epic, in which the Prince Rāma and his army of monkey-warriors fight to win the return of his wife from her abductor, the giant-king Thotsakan. In this episode, Thotsakan has sent his niece Benyakai to mislead Rāma into thinking his wife is dead by transforming herself into a corpse near Rāma’s encampment. However, Rāma’s chief soldier, the white monkey Hanuman, is not fooled, and pursues Benyakai, eventually capturing her.
● Sat, May 30th at 12−2.30 pm Tallinn University, Department of Choreography (Narva Rd 25)
Master class of traditional Thai dance (free entrance, pre-registration firstname.lastname@example.org)
See also: Festival Orient, Orient 2013, Orient 2011, Orient presents in 2010, Orient 2009, Orient presents in 2008, Orient 2007, Orient presents in 2006, Orient 2005, Festival archives Orient in Palmyra (Voices from the Stars Above the Desert), The Path to the Heart of Asia (CD recorded with featuring musicians of Orient 1992)
Should you wish to subscribe for news and updates on festival programs about twice annually, please click here.
Special thanks: EAS, Alar Metsson, Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia, HE Gary K. Y. Ko, Gustavo Chu, Eesti Kontsert, Madis Kolk, Urmas Paet, Valdo Helmelaid, Hedi Palipea, Meliisa Marianne Palipea, Peter Phiri