Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance & Music, the country’s best-known cultural festival, celebrates its 25th anniversary with a bang, when none other than legendary music conductor Zubin Mehta opens the two-month festival, the coming weekend on September 2, Saturday.
The maestro has been the life conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of Maggio Musicale Florentino, since 2006. The orchestra is considered as one of the finest in the world and has been led by many famous conductors.
According to the Italian ambassador to Thailand, Paolo Dionisi, “There’s no better occasion to celebrate 155 years of bilateral relations between Italy and Thailand than with an event as important as the presence of the Maggio Fiorentino in Bangkok, conducted by the great Zubin Mehta. Bangkok returns to be capital of culture in southeast Asia!”
Mehta has performed at the Bangkok festival earlier to sold-out shows, and it’s the same this time, with none other than the King and Queen of Thailand being the chief guests.
The remaining shows will be “a huge variety of breath-taking performances from around the world”, according to Rasina Uberoi, managing director of the organiser, International Cultural Promotions Limited. Rasina is the daughter of the founder of the festival, Indian-born publishing magnate J.S. Uberoi.
There are two totally diverse operas, at this year’s festival — the classical Aida, by the Helikon Opera group from Russia, and Dream of the Red Chamber by the Shanghai Yue Opera.
The former has a multimedia set, grand orchestra and choir, for the enactment of the Egyptian story of pharaohs and pyramids. The latter is a delicate love story, enacted by an all-woman cast who play the male roles too, with mellifluous music and lush Chinese landscapes.
There’s musical theatre from the US, and it’s none other than the popular West Side Story. It has a huge, diverse cast, but the music is played out by the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, making it a grand Thai-American collaboration, to celebrate 190 years of diplomatic relations between Thailand and the United States.
In fact, one of the new features of the festival is the student outreach programme providing master classes and workshops for Thai students by the visiting artistes. There’s a galaxy of ballet troupes this year.
The famed Stuttgart Ballet has performed at the festival before, and their medley of solos and pas de deux this year are from the classical gems like Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet. The company specialises in multinational artistes (22 countries) and many of them will be on view at their gala performance in Bangkok.
The other ballet troupes are led by brilliant, creative choreographers, and give exciting twists to the classics.
Thus, Tchaikovsky’s stark and stunning ballet Swan Lake is transformed to a powerful clash between good and evil, man and animal, black and white forms, performed by the new and dynamic Les Ballets De Monte Carlo group from Monaco.
Another world-famous classic, George Bizet’s Carmen, is performed by the highly innovative Granada Flamenco Ballet group, and becomes a thematic drama of many emotions, enunciated through an amalgam of superb footwork, mimetic acting and daring lighting.
Probably the most dynamic and daring, is the Eifman Ballet group from Russia, whose artistic director Boris Eifman describes dance as not physical but a psychic act. That’s why their enactment of Anna Karenina is wild, powerful, and raises the Tolstoy drama from the physical to the metaphysical level.
The modern dance group, at this year’s festival, is the Cie Accrorap troupe from France, whose show Roots has 11 hip-hop dancers combining varied dance moves, pulsating rhythms and gravity-defying positions. Interestingly, founder Kader Attou said he was influenced by many dance forms, including Indian dance.
The last show at the festival takes one to a magical realm, through six illusionists from six different countries. What’s special is that all the illusionists are female! The show, Magnificent Six, was specially created for the Bangkok Festival by the CEO of the International Magicians Society.
“We want Bangkok to be a cultural capital not only in the Asean region, but to also put us on the world map. Consequently, great culture will draw in great investments for the country,” stated managing director Rasina Uberoi.
Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, deputy governor for marketing communications, Tourism Authority of Thailand, one of the main sponsors of the festival, stated that the mega-cultural event was in keeping with its new tourism policy by which it promoted many F’s such as “Festivals, Food, Fashion, Film”.
Chattan was former director of the TAT office in New Delhi, and said, “India is a very important market for us, and we want to offer them new experiences.”
This writer’s opinion is that, if Indian tourists travel to Europe and America to attend international shows there, it would be good for TAT to promote Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance and Music at their offices in India.
Meanwhile, if Indian tourists are planning to visit Bangkok in September-October, they should definitely check out some of the great shows at the city’s best-known international cultural festival.
For details of the festival, check https://www.bangkokfestivals.com
For tickets: https://www.thaiticketmajor.com/bangkokfestivals/