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Bangkok cultural festival: A wide array of dazzling fare

Published : Sep 7, 2016, 2:39 am IST
Updated : Sep 7, 2016, 2:39 am IST

Top Indian Kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas and her troupe will be one of many outstanding music and dance groups who will partake in Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance and Music, that will unfurl

Top Indian Kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas and her troupe will be one of many outstanding music and dance groups who will partake in Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance and Music, that will unfurl in the city this week, and resound with rhythms for the next six weeks.

The brainchild of Thai-Indian entrepreneur Kukoo Uberoi, the festival has been going from strength to strength, and is now in its 18th year.

The festival will feature ballets from countries as varied as Russia, Germany, Switzerland, France, flamenco from Spain, modern dance from the US, orchestras from countries as diverse as Israel and Turkey, rivetingly different jazz groups from Canada and Belgium, and finally stunning acrobatics from China and superb Kathak from India.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival is the exciting new interpretations of many old classics.

The festival opens this week, with Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Swan Lake, a huge favourite in the city. It’s played out by the world-famous Stanislavsky Ballet from Moscow. As usual, the dazzling sets, lighting, live orchestra, and 90 superb performers will ensure a memorable opening act. The Russian ballet troupe will enact another old and favourite drama Giselle. This production is unique because it has been choreographed by the legendary Marius Petipa, into a rivetingly passionate drama.

The Russian fervour continues, with the Helikon Opera Theatre who will perform two dynamic operas — Verdi’s powerful Masked Ball, a topical tale of power and politics, and Bizet’s memorable Carmen, a story of love and loss, which has won this opera-theatre many awards.

Switzerland’s Geneva Ballet perform two famed dramas — Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, whose highlight is that the lead is played by award-winning Swiss-Thai ballet artiste Sarawanee Tanatanit. The second ballet is the medieval masterpiece Carmina Burana, which has been excitingly re-created as a very sensuous drama. Swiss ambassador Ivo Sieber states: “Their inspired and eclectic style is in the best tradition of Swiss modern dance.”

Germany’s Karlsruhe Ballet and France’s Ballet Preljocaj have unique, new interpretations of the old classics. The former performs The Nutcracker: A Christmas Story, an arresting combination of Dickens’ and Hoffmann’s tales, with 50 superb dancers from 13 countries, including China, Japan, Korea. German Cultural Attache Jan Blezinger describes the show as “a uniquely delicate and elegant, but powerful ballet performance.”

The French troupe perform Romeo and Juliet, where Shakespeare’s famed love story is sensationally re-set in a totalitarian East European state. The clash here, is not between two social clans, but between the militia and a homeless family.

Spanish flamenco is a very popular feature of the festival, and the world-famous Sara Baras Dance Company perform this year. Sara Bara is considered the best flamenco dancer in the world today, about whom the Guardian wrote: “This is a woman who can dance up not just a flamenco storm, but a hurricane!” She will enact her latest composition Voices, Flamenco, which is a total tribute to the flamenco dance form, with its colour, energy, passion, and 15 pulsating dancers on stage. Maria Salcedo, department head of the Spanish embassy, admits that this is possibly the best flamenco group who have performed at the festival.

Indian dancer Aditi Mangaldas and her brilliant dance-troupe will be performing their 2012 drama Uncharted Seas, which, like the Spanish composition, is a vibrant tribute to the Kathak dance form, with its speed, style and sizzling choreography. But it also has many contemporary touches, which is in keeping with the dancer’s marvelous capacity to bring the spirit of innovation into the classic Kathak dance-form.

As the dancer says succinctly, “It’s like planting the seed of Kathak and watering it with contemporary sensibilities, so that the plant that grows out of this seed has the strong roots of Kathak and yet grows into a completely different genre.”

The drama set the Edinburgh Festival on fire, when it was first performed there, and will doubtless excite the audiences at the Bangkok festival too.

Indian ambassador Bhagwant Bishnoi said they were delighted to support a brilliant dancer like Aditi Mangaldas, noted for her “spirit of innovation, while respecting the dance form’s rich heritage and traditions.”

As for the great musical groups at the festival, the world-famous Israel Camerata Orchestra comes first, and are performing here for the first time. Israel ambassador Simon Roded is proud that the orchestra is “a melting pot of old and new talents”. Still led by their legendary founder-conductor Avner Biron, the dynamic group is noted for its huge repertoire, and will play everything from Bartok to Haydn and Schubert.