Visit Citebite Deep link provided by Citebite
Close this shade
Source:  http://www.bangkokpost.com/entertainment/movie/24783/when-the-hoi-polloi-meets-the-hoity-toity

When the Hoi polloi meets the Hoity Toity

Send suggestions

Entertainment » Movie

When the Hoi polloi meets the Hoity Toity

People and puppets in new 'Carmen'

  • Published: 30/09/2009 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: Outlook

In Kriengsak Silakong and Jitti Chompee's interpretation of Georges Bizet's Carmen, it's not really the famous opera that gets the makeover. It's more the nang talung (southern Thai shadow puppetry) that dons a new appearance. One of its most famous comedic characters, I Teng, is stuffed into a suit and daintily holds a glass of wine. He also takes human form - big haired and stick-thin unlike his two-dimensional version. Teng's male sidekick, Ai Nu Nui, is turned into a trashy factory girl with provocative curves. However, like most makeovers, the transformations are merely physical. Both characters retain their southern dialect and their bawdy indiscretion. They serve as comic relief and critics. They comment on, insult and even sexually harass some of the characters in Carmen.

Many of the problems with this production of Carmen lie in the transformations that have taken place and the ones that should have. Melding together nang talung, opera and ballet, the show seems surprisingly afraid to depart from the usual image of Carmen, which frankly has become a little hackneyed. There are three Carmens here: Carmen the ballerina (Meuanphun Ampungsang), Carmen the opera singer (Rapeeporn Pratum-Anon) and Carmen the giant nang talung-styled cut-out with a cigarette dangling from her finger. Red dominates all three of their costumes, of course. They are sexy and bitchy, of course. And they remain the same in every scene.

In one particularly disappointing transformation, Escamillo, played by a Norah dancer (a form of southern Thai dance), goes through a process of dressing up for a performance as a Norah. Seen as a video projection, the camera work is commendable in the way it portrays Escamillo's arrogant manliness and celebrity status. However, we never get to see Escamillo in the Norah costume. The performer dances in an outfit of a black shirt and trousers with a red handkerchief hanging from his waistband, rendering the previous dressing process utterly irrelevant. Why the creators take such a timid step in revealing a new image of Escamillo is confounding.

The most effective transformation is Kampanath Ruangkittivilas's turn as Teng, which, more than the puppets themselves, captures the humour of nang talung. Yet the potential of Teng to deepen and even cast a new light on Carmen is unfortunately not explored.

When Kriengsak adapted Marivaux's L'ile des esclaves (The Isle of Slaves) into a likay, the clashes of forms, cultures and classes materialised onstage most intriguingly. A child suddenly appeared in the wing and sat on a stool to watch his family perform. Performers stuck their heads out from behind the curtains to signal their colleagues onstage. That production was also performed at the Alliance Francaise. And the fact that Kriengsak let the folk form usually performed in markets or temple fairs make a Western theatre space their home was admirably daring, even generous. The likay transformed the auditorium of Alliance Francaise when Kriengsak, as a director with Western theatre roots, could have easily used the nature of the venue and his directing tradition to confine and control the improvisational form. Funnily and interestingly enough, as Kriengsak recalled in an interview, it was the likay performers who had a difficult time departing from their routine; the stage and the director had no choice but to adapt themselves. In that production, it becomes clear to someone who doesn't regularly attend a likay performance that likay and folk performances are not just an art, but a way of life. And it's much more difficult to tear away from that - as artists and as people.

A seamless hybridisation of artistic forms can be considered an achievement for an artist to take pride in and for an audience to admire. In Carmen, however, the absence of the awkward stitches seen in The Isle of Slaves makes the synthesis of these different genres and cultures seem superficial. What Kriengsak gets is comedy. He knows what can transcend barriers of language and tradition.

"Comedy is awkward," said the director in an interview with 'Outlook' last week. However, the comedy in Carmen, entertaining and charming as it is, still doesn't have a very sharp nose for the awkwardness that takes place in this kind of artistic process. Why put ballet, nang talung and opera together? The conscious fusion of traditions and artistic genres is so prevalent and casual today that sometimes artists forget the history each form carries.

The refreshing thing about this collaboration is the many myths about the Thai culture and people that it punctures. Meuanphun, as Carmen, is a strong presence and a captivating ballerina. Who says Thai people can't do ballet? Rapeeporn, also as Carmen, has an inviting operatic voice. Good Thai opera singers are becoming less and less rare in Thailand. If we can erase the idea of opera as a grand and superfluous theatrical event, then we definitely have enough good local opera singers for a production. We can even invest more in them instead of in elaborate costumes and sets.

Jitti's choreography takes a small leap in this production. In his previous dance theatre pieces, Remember ... What You Have Done in 24 Hours? and In Tune, Jitti didn't put pedestrian movements into his choreography as much as make them stand alongside his ballet sequences. In Carmen, while his choreography remains heavily balletic and refined, experimentation with space and everyday movements is more visible in his ballet choreography.

'Carmen' continues its run on Saturday and Sunday, October 4 at the Alliance Francaise, 29 Sathon Tai Road, at 7:30pm. Tickets are 400 baht, 250 baht for students and members. Call the Alliance Francaise on 02-670-4231.

Relate Search: Kriengsak Silakong, Jitti Chompee, Georges Bizet Carmen, Ai Nu Nui, Meuanphun Ampungsang, Rapeeporn Pratum-Anon, The Isle of Slaves

About the author

columnist
Writer: Amitha Amranand
Position: Reporter

Share your thoughts

Report objectionable comments click here. Include: discussion #, commenter name, comment date / time as it looks on the page. Example: discussion 15: 09/01/2009 at 10:00 AM.

Reply

    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
  • If you have further insights or comments, please use our Bangkok Post forum
  •  print this    mail this    back to top