Preserving the spirit

The Magic of Thai Culture kicks off a series of programs celebrating 60 years of Thai-Israeli relations.

thai370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s no secret that Israelis love Thailand.
In fact, if one were to visit Bangkok without knowing the actual population of Israel, one might easily get the impression that our tiny land was 50 times its size. Indeed, Israelis maintain a consistent presence in Thailand, keeping the pathway open between the two countries.
In the coming months, Israel and Thailand will celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations, a milestone in a warm friendship. Events will be held in both countries to honor the occasion.
The first of these events, The Magic of Thai Culture, will kick off this week in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. An evening of Thai music and dance with traditional artists will be open to audiences as a first taste of the program that is about to begin. The production is the initiative of the Thai ambassador to Israel.
Thai choreographer Anucha Thirakanont put the performances together, making sure to include a variety of elements that are representative of traditional Thai performances. The type of dance to be presented is called khon, which is thought to have emerged at some point between 1400 and 1700.
Khon shows often center on the character of King Rama from the Hindu epic Ramakian, or Ramayana. Props, stage combat and singing are features of this celebrated art form.
“Classical dance is always a part of Thai life as a form of entertainment, as well as ritual,” said Thirakanont in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. “From weddings and birthday parties to funerals, dance can be found throughout Thailand.
Blessing dances are believed to bring joy and happiness to the audience, while dance is performed at funerals to commemorate the deceased person, as well as to bid farewell to loved ones.”
The performances will include nine musicians, 16 dancers, traditional instruments and elaborate costumes, each of which weighs up to 20 kilos. In performances such as this one, the connection between music and dance is an obvious element. The dancer receives information from the musician and returns this input in the form of energy.
“In classical and folk dances, music is inseparable from dance. It gives the dancer rhythm and tempo, as well as setting the mood for the performers and the audience,” says Thirakanont.
While a great deal of work is put into Thirakanont’s choreographies, he sees his place as a type of vehicle of an ancient art form.
Through recreating the dances that have been performed for hundreds of years, Thirakanont acts as a type of cultural anthropologist, educating and preserving.
“The dances that we bring to Israel are not newly created but something we inherited from our forebears,” he explains. “What we are doing is preserving and presenting to younger generations.
The classical dances may be adjusted to accommodate modern theatrical presentation, such as in length and blocking, but the spirit of the dances, be it folk or classical, is carefully upheld.”
Thirakanont’s productions have represented Thailand in many international locales, such as Europe and South America.
These performances offer an opportunity for the artist to convey the inner secrets of his country. In his eyes, these performances expose the soul of the Thai people today and in the past.
“Working together with respect for our culture, training laboriously and with love and then letting the spirit of our nation and music carry us away is absolutely thrilling,” he beams. “Moreover, we stage classical dance dramas in various forms and present them in all kinds of venues – parks, temple fairs and national theaters. Amid the wave of globalization, with more choices for entertainment, classical and traditional folk dances are still deemed special and worthy in our society.”
The Magic of Thai Culture will be presented at Habimah National Theater in Tel Aviv on February 27 at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. (072-222-2515), and at the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem on February 28 at 8:30 p.m. ((02) 625-1139).