Bangkok Fest celebrates 20th anniversary with a dazzling range of shows

The Asian Age.  | Lekha Shankar

Entertainment, Music

There are three other top orchestras performing at the 2018 Festival, and interestingly, they are all from Asia.

Taj Express, which combines magnificent sets, costumes, sound, lighting, and live music, comes to Bangkok, after a sensational tour of UK and US.

Taj Express, a Bollywood song-and dance spectacle from India, ‘Swan Lake’ by the Moscow State Classical Ballet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Karlsruhe Ballet, Germany, Carmen by the Teatro Di San Carlo from Naples, conducted by the great Zubin Mehta, the Korean Symphony Orchestra, the Hangzhou Philharmonic Orchestra — these are among the many spectacular programs at Bangkok’s famed International Festival of Dance and Music, which opens in the city this week , and celebrates its 20th   Anniversary this year.

“This is a historic year for us, as we are celebrating our 20th anniversary” said J.S. Uberoi, the Indian-born Chairman of Bangkok’s best-known cultural extravaganza. “The festival program reflects how special this landmark is! We have curated a very diverse program, featuring some of the leading companies of the world.”

The Opening act proves this, when the world’s oldest and grandest opera company, the ‘Teatro di San Carlo’ from Naples, Italy performs Carmen, and their Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by none other than the great Zubin Mehta!

There are three other top orchestras performing at the 2018 Festival, and interestingly, they are all from Asia. Infact, the Asian segment is very strong this year, which is well-timed, considering that Thailand will be the Chairman of the ‘Asean’ conglomerate, next year.

The ‘Korean Symphony Orchestra’, the leading national theatre orchestra of the country which gives nearly 100 performances a year, will be performing in Bangkok for the first time. They will be led by their eminent Conductor Chi-Yong Chung and will also include world-famous solo pianist Jiyeong Mun, who has won numerous prizes in Europe.

The ‘Hangzhou Philharmonic Orchestra’, one of the top five orchestras from China, will also be performing here for the first time. They will be led by their renowned conductor Yang Yang and will include celebrated solo violinist Ning Feng, who has performed with the top orchestras of the world.

A unique orchestra at this year’s Festival, is the ‘Ju Percussion’ troupe from Taiwan, who have lifted percussive music to another level, by playing a stunning range of drums. They have an amazing repertoire of musical rhythms, from classical to pop, rock, world music, which have taken audiences by storm in more than 30 countries of the world, and are sure to knock out Thai audiences too.

Taj Express, which combines magnificent sets, costumes, sound, lighting, and live music, comes to Bangkok, after a sensational tour of UK and US.

Conceived by director Shruti Merchant and her choreographer- sister Vaibhavi Merchant, both of whom have been associated with many Bollywood films, the musical centers around a young composer who struggles with his music, until he begins to follow the footsteps of his idol, A.R Rahman.

A.R. Rahman’s fabulous songs are the highlight of a show, which according to the director “reveals the secrets of the world’s most prolific film industry, and the people who make magic in India’s factory of dreams”. The musical has been described as “one of a kind” by Bollywood star Salman Khan

The last Asian group at this year’s Festival, is the ‘Singapore Dance Theatre’, one of the top dance-companies of the country, which will be performing the lush wedding-sequences from famous ballets like Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote

In keeping with the grand diversity of the program, there is a ‘Michael Jackson Tribute’, where a brilliant range of singers and dancers will celebrate the 60th birthday of the pop icon, by belting out his best-known songs, with spectacular sets, lighting, costumes. The exciting range of dance genres, this year, include ballet, tango, flamenco, all of which have been hugely popularized by this Festival.

The Russian ballets have always been a major highlight of Bangkok’s best-known cultural Festival.

 Russian ambassador Kirill Barsky informed that more than 12 top ballet companies and several brilliant opera houses from his country, have performed at the 20-year-old Festival.

This year’s Festival will feature the ‘Moscow State Classical Ballet’, who will bring a bevy of fabulous productions- Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Firebird, Rite of Spring and and even a fairy tale The Ugly Duckling.  After all, children have been majorly targeted at this year’s Festival. Infact there is a special show of Ugly Duckling for handicapped children too.

 “There’s something for everyone, at this year’s Festival, including children!” exclaimed Uberoi.

An exciting, almost erotic version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will be played out by Germany’s famed ‘Karlsruhe Ballet’, with grand sets, lighting, and many magical tricks and surprises. This globally renowned troupe has dancers from as many as 14 countries!

There is a unique dance-program called Break the Tango/ Hip Hop, which is a brilliant amalgam of tango and hip hop, performed by world- champion tango dancers, brilliant hip hop artistes, and award-winning break-dancers from Europe and Asia.  According to the Ambassador of Argentina HE Alicia Sonschein, the show is  “Very unique and special, and would bring Argentinian tango to an amazing new level!”

Another unique dance programme called Born to Dance, by the dynamic Los Vivancos flamenco group from Spain, will combine old and new music rhythms (including groups like Metallica, Deep Purple, Leonard Cohen), together with varied dance forms like tap dance, martial arts, and even aerial performances! The group has dazzled audiences in more than 35 countries around the world, including celebrities like actor Antonio Banderas, Princess Stephanie of Monaco.

To quote the Spanish ambassador Emilio de Miguel Calabia “ The Los Vivancos flamenco show is always developing in new directions. It is like the delta of a big river. It has many branches, but all of them come from the same source!”

Last but not the least, mention must be made of a very special program, at this year’s Festival- The Magnificent Seven, a mega magic-show with, dazzling sets, music, lighting, and astonishing acts.

Definitely, a huge draw for kids, and adults too.

According to Uberoi, they are the “The world’s top seven magicians and illusionists from the International Magicians Society of New York, who will perform in Bangkok for the first time!”

Among the big names, are Illusionists like Peter Gossamer from the United States of america, Raul Alegria  from Spain, as also Magicians like Ariann Black from Canada and various others.

On its 20th  Anniversary, Bangkok’s best-known cultural festival seems to have out-done itself, with a stunning range of shows that would appeal to all ages and tastes. “It is a very fitting celebration, for Bangkok’s leading performing arts festival!” stated JS Uberoi with justifiable pride.

The writer is a critic and commentator on films and culture based in Bangkok