Thai Khon: the classic that never dies

Reinventions keep the traditional performing art alive.

When the ‘Black and White’ performance by Pichet Klunchun Dance Company debuted for the first time in 2012, the feelings were mixed. In the conservative culture of Thailand, watching the revered Khon performance presented in a non-traditional way could generate some kind of discomfort. 

After many years, this iconic performance, which Silpathorn award winner Pichet Klunchun considered as his second milestone after his solo work ‘I am a Demon’ was back again at an uncommon place, which was the networking reception of the 64th Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fair at Impact Muang Thong Thani. The performance was selected as an innovative way to present jewelry under the concept of ‘Thailand’s Magic Hands: the Spirit of Jewelry Making’, as the elaborate movements of khon were linked with the craftsmanship of Thai artisans.

Although Khon is being a shared cultural heritage in the region (Unesco has listed a version of Khon as a Cambodian cultural heritage and Thai Khon in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity), many Thais still see Khon as their national pride. And just like anything traditional, this masked dance is getting lost along the course of time. Apart from the performances at Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre, the prestigious Royal Khon performances, held by the SUPPORT Foundation under the royal patronage of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit The Queen Mother of Thailand, are on view annually in November. This year’s edition ‘Sueb Marga: The Adventures of Hanuman’ is scheduled to  perform during 6 November to 5 December 2019 at the Thai Cultural Centre. For years, the organizer has tried to make the show more inspiring with special effects. 

As for the contemporary Khon performance in the networking reception hosted by DITP, Pichet said that he was quite surprised that this show really happened after all. Still, this was a good sign that the Thai society has become more open to contemporary art, a concept once perceived as something opposite to the traditional one. 

First performed in 2012, the ‘Black and White’ performance was considered the second milestone of Pichet Klunchun Dance Company (the first one is Pichet’s solo show I Am A Demon). The show was inspired by the murals of Ramakien, the Thai version of Ramayana. For the latest show at Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fair, the company had to adjust the choreography so that the movements didn’t overshine the jewelry worn by the performers.

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