French-Thai cultural fest La Fête lurches into gear with a surreal treat on stage.
Overseen by HRH Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, La Fête: French-Thai Cultural Festival 2009 kicked off on Wednesday, June 3 at Thailand Cultural Centre’s Main Hall, with the opening performance of the fantastical “
A single image of a man on a cliff launching a letter in the wind to a woman on the other side was what motivated Philippe Genty to create this 2005 production. It came to him in a dream, and the world-renowned theatre director transformed it into 90-minute reverie for his audience.
Although it took four years and a world tour until “Land’s End” was finally invited to perform in
The show was packed full of entertainment and spectacle but also had plenty to stir the thoughts of more serious-minded spectators.
The audience was stunned into silence right away when a cardboard figure sitting at an office desk transformed into a human in the blink of eye, and began working on paper documents with a hand that had been an inanimate white glove seconds before. Trapdoor surprises were effective, and the bizarre and entrancing Bunraku-inspired puppets took on lives of their own.
Black panels that dropped down and slid sideways continually changed the frame for the perfomers, an ingenious device that made the simple stage set dynamic and exciting. The panels glided horizontally to reveal new additions or to wipe figures off the stage. At times, the black void of the performance area would be filled entirely with inflated, undulating plastic bags that performers move freely into, out of, and through.
All seven performers were expert at shifting seamlessly between pantomime gestures, dance choreography, puppet manipulation and choral singing. Even when strange objects were the centre of attention, human emotions were never lacking, ranging from the oozing sensuality of intimate pas de deuxs to the farcical humour of chunky guys rushing into wedding gowns and a woman laughing hysterically while rolling on the floor with her body entangled in plastic wrap.
When they weren’t in white dresses, the men wore trench coats and bowler hats, a motif that can be traced to René Magritte’s surrealist paintings. Echoing the Belgian artist’s description of his work as “the art of putting colours side by side in such a way that their real aspect is effaced”, Genty’s performance were scenes—with familiar pictures presented in a slightly peculiar manner—placed one after another more like a poetic tableaux than a coherent narrative. The spectacle was thrilling, but many viewers were probably what it all meant as they left the auditorium.
Magritte, though, liked to direct his audience away from too much thinking: “My paintings are visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question: ‘What does that mean?’ It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either. It is unknowable.”
This is not to say that contemporary art is simply pointless. When artists call for mystery like in “Lands’ End”, the work—instead of “meaning” something—“tells” us aplenty. It did not tell a sole story, but as many as each spectator’s personal perception and interpretation could conjure up.
“La Fête”, the country’s only multi-disciplinary and multi-venue arts festival, is currently running with both free and ticketed events in various corners of
written by Jasmine Baker
published in THE NATION on Tuesday, June 9, 2009
photos courtesy of the Embassy of France in Thailand
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