It has been nine years since Bangkok took its first steps towards establishing itself as a Southeast Asian cultural hub. Its been nine years since Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance & Music set the ball rolling. Today the festival has garnered a reputation for excellence presenting only the best from around the world to discerning audiences in Bangkok. In keeping with this tradition the ninth edition (Sept 9-11 Oct) of the festival has in store acts that will find favour even with the most demanding of patrons.

As Thailand celebrates His Majesty the King’s 80th Birthday this year, the festival in effect is dedicated to Him and opens with a spectacular performance paying homage to the musician in His Majesty. During his reign His Majesty has penned some 48 compositions, many in the blues style and the opening act, ‘His Majesty’s Blues Concert’, has 25 of Thailand’s leading singers giving voice to some of these compositions. Accompanied by an orchestra, singers like Ford Sobchai Kraiyurasen, Jennifer Kim, Radklao Amaradit, Ta Surachai Wongbuakao and Ben Chalatit Tantiwut among others, will more than do justice to the compositions. Pongprom Sanitwong Na Ayuthaya, producer, composer and musician is the man behind this amazing project. It was in 2006 that over a 100 Thai artists, cutting across label lines came together in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of His Majesty’s Accession to the Throne. A four set CD album was also released which soon became a collector’s item. This blues concert is another opportunity to hear rare compositions in concert and makes for a fitting opening to a spectacular festival. 

More in Music

Music has been central to the festival through the years and this edition too has a lot to offer: a percussion ensemble from India, a symphony concert and an evening devoted to jazz. On Sept 12, an all-female percussion ensemble, Stree Shakti will take the stage. Led by Anuradha Pal it is one of India’s leading percussion ensembles and Anuradha Pal is arguably one of the sub-continents best percussionists. Using traditional percussion instruments like tabla, ghatam, kanjira, pakhawaj and mridangam the ensemble churns out powerful beats. The music finds its basis in the classical traditions of India but is in no way out of context in the modern era.

Moving to another classical tradition, Sept 23 sees a symphony concert by the Ekaterinburg Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra dates back to 1912 and is one of the best operatic and Ballet orchestras in Russia. In honour of His Majesty (Rama IX) ’s Birthday the orchestra will tackle Symphony No. IX in D minor, Op. 125 by Ludwig Van Beethoven. This symphony by Beethoven was a landmark event, for the first time a composer used the human voice like he would an instrument. So expect a full chorus with four soloist singers. Also on the programme is Scheherazade Op. 35 by Nikolai Rimsky- Korsakov. Conductor Mikahil Granovsky from the Bolshoi Theatre, one of the most looked- forward to conductors in Russia will take the baton.

On 8th October jazz and popular music fans will hear all permutations and combinations possible, First on is Coda Jazz Group from Australia which effortlessly blends classical, rock, electronic, operatic with jazz, creating a rich tapestry of music, With three albums to their credit the group popular on the Australian festival circuit, will delight with its heady mix.The same evening Saskia Laroo band from The Netherlands takes the stage next. Saskia Laroo has been hailed by the American press as ‘Lady Miles’. A trumpet stylist, Saskia’s multi-national unit pulsates with contemporary sounds, groovy rhythms, exciting solos, and rap vocals. Saskia has performed with the likes of George Benson and is a name well received all over the world including at festivals like Montreux. The last act of the evening is Monsieur Camembert which has been at the forefront of ‘Gyprock’ explosion in Australia for the past eight years. A triple Aria Award winning ensemble, with Yaron Hallis leading from the front the group promises the ultimate in music.

The Opera Quotient

When it comes to music Operas are the ultimate expression and this festival sees two: Eugene Onegin (Sept 22) and La Traviata (Sept 24) both staged by Ekaterinburg Opera Theatre, Russia, one of the oldest and most respected companies in Russia. The staging of Eugene Onegin is a remarkable event; it is the first Russian opera to be staged in Bangkok ever. An opera in three parts the story centres around a selfish hero who lives to regret his blasω rejection of a young woman's love and his careless incitement of a fatal duel with his best friend. It is the perfect example of a lyric opera and closely follows Pushkin’s original work. Around 180 artists (cast and orchestra) will bring to stage this, Tchaiovsky masterpiece.

The second opera of the season is a Verdi favourite: La Traviata. Based on Alexandre Dumas’ play La dame aux Cameilas it is an intimate work dealing with the conflict between the ‘real’ world of love and the ‘false’ world of societal expectations. The hero is tricked into giving up his love because she is well below his ‘station’. Playing Violetta is soprano Natalia Margrit, Italy’s most well-known soprano and a regular performer at La Scala and the Paris Opera House (she has also performed with Jose Carreras), while Alfredo is tackled by Dmytro Kuzmin, a soloist with the Kiev Opera House.

The Magic of Ballets

This festival sees the ballet take on a contemporary hue beginning with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company which on Sept 18 presents ‘Upon Reaching the Sun’, taking its cue from an excerpt from ‘Woyzeck’, the fragmentary play by 19th-century German writer Georg Bωchner. The excerpt describes the imaginary journey of a lonely orphan girl. The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company is one of Israel's most prominent dance companies identified with the works of its artistic director – Rami Be'er. Expect a cutting-edge contemporary dance performance.

Compagnia Aterballetto, Italy goes into more familiar territory with Romeo and Juliet (Sept 27). This is the first full performance of Romeo and Juliet as a contemporary ballet. At the helm of the company is Artistic Director Mario Bigonzetti one of Italy’s most critically acclaimed and famous contemporary choreographers. Expect a striking, eclectic performance with spectacular sets and costumes, both designed by the world- famous installation artist Fabrizio Plessi.

The next instalment in ballet takes a classical detour with Swan Lake (Sept 29-30) followed by a neo-classical Pedro & Inωs (Oct 2), both ballets are by Portuguese National Ballet.

Every one in Bangkok is familiar with Swan lake but this version has an unexpected twist in the tale. A staging that just has to be seen. Pedro & Ines is based on a true story. The ballet centres around Pedro, the son and heir of King Alfonso IV, who was forced to marry Princess Constanza even though he was in love with Inωs. After his wife’s death Pedro fled to be with Inωs. Inωs, however, is murdered on the orders of the king. On succeeding to the throne Pedro had Ines’ corpse exhumed and crowned. The court was forced to acknowledge her as queen by kneeling before her and kissing her decomposed hand.

Never has Thailand seen such a dramatic and shockingly true story told on stage. The use of huge water tank on stage as the performance arena adds to the drama. Following this dramatic staging is another one, that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Zurich Ballet (Oct6-7). A ballet in two acts it is based on William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy that portrays the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of amateur actors, their interactions with the Duke and Duchess of Athens, Theseus and Hippolyta, and with fairies who inhabit a moonlit forest. Classified as Zurich Ballets biggest production, this ballet has the most amazing sets ever seen yet. Consider the fact that they are shipped to Thailand in four 40ft containers by sea and over 65 cubic metres by air and you can begin to understand the size of the production.

At the helm of this, one of Europe’s foremost ballet companies, is Artistic Director Heinz Sporeli, the continent’s most celebrated choreographer. Adding their might to the production are actors (Anthony O’Donnel and Bill Alexander) from Royal Shakespeare Company, London and an orchestra led by well- known conductor James Tuggle from USA.

Traditional Dances

The saga of traditional dance this festival begins with India and one of its foremost exponents of kathak: Pallabi De. Kathak is one of six major classical dances of India and the most dynamic. This performance (Sept 12) by Pallabi De and her group will trace the history of the dance form from the temples of ancient India to its modern incarnation.

Next on are traditional dances from Veracruz, Mexico by Grupo Jarocho National Dance Company (Sept 14). The Spanish word Jarocho describes a person or music from the state or city of Veracruz and this show is a musical expression of the creative core of Jarocho directed by Richard O’ Neal (former assistant director of Riverdance).60 dancers and technicians pay homage to the mix of European, African and indigenous roots that is Veracruz reflected in its music and dance traditions.

While Tango is by no means a traditional dance it holds that status in Argentina. On Sept 16 come face to face with the fiery passion of Argentinean tango with No -Bailaras Tango Company. Argentina’s best known choreographer Silvana grill presents a performance, ‘Grotesque Passion Dance’, that synthesizes traditional tango into a dramatic contemporary showcase

South Korea steps in next with the Seoul Metropolitan Dance Theatre (Sept 20). A keeper of the flame as far as the traditional dances of Korea go, the company’s mission is to serve as a springboard for Korean dance worldwide. More than 40 of Korea’s most talented dancers will take to the stage.

The finale

Bringing the curtain down on this nearly six-week long festival are two performances by Ballet Nacional de Espana (Oct 10-11). Over 50 dancers of Spain’s leading dance company will present Flamenco and Spanish Dances in three productions: Caprichos, Dualia and Cambalache. The training ground of every Spanish dancer of note, the company has preserved all styles of Spanish dance yet has managed to combine tradition with modernity with surprising ease. Director Jose Antonio’s career is defined by his wide body of work as a director and in 2005, he was awarded the ‘Medalla de Oro al Mωrito en las Bellas Artes’, by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Expect to be stunned by this electrifying performance.





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