PROMPT: PLAY

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Encounter: Interspersing the Body Politic

By Noramin Farid

I want so badly to hear her voice. Every time she tries to sing or verbalise, some disruption occurs. The violence imposed upon her is not physical but a sudden stare, or a face-to-face non-verbal confrontation. She scurries to her little corner — back to her passive role, witnessing as bystander, cheering on the crazy that occurs in this space.

As perturbed as I am by her self-imposed relegation to that corner, I feel even in her quiet abdication how she commands attention in her little part of the stage. Champa Saenprom, the songstress, finally delivers her swansong with heightened emotion in a state of lying down.

SIFA X: Intermission was a revelation of the deep-seated emotions of the Thai citizenry. It did not take much for one to know that the work was about embodied politics and politicism. From the moment one stepped into the performance space, the conventions of spectatorship were already challenged. Artists were only beginning to warm up within the space, setting up props, vacuuming. The quotidian soon became the key habit of Intermission, so much so that when excerpts of the performing bits were carried out, you actually wanted to see the everyday reveal itself more as the performance unfolded.

Intermission featured four artists: Vidura Amranand, Champa Saenprom, Chanapon Komkham and Paopoom Chiwarak. It felt like the performance was divided into discrete yet interrelated segments, each time a new movement discipline was introduced. There were clear signifiers of what each segment was critiquing through the movement language that Vidura initiated. At times, Vidura did it solo with multimedia accompaniment; other times, she shared the space with her co-dancer, Paopoom. At all times, Champa made a short appearance at stage centre, then scurried to her corner where she participated quietly. At very random moments, Chanapon, who was the only one dressed in white, appeared, sometimes to participate as part of the ensemble; at other times, to be a disruptor with their presence, just when a narrative began to concretise.

The sight of the figure in white within the performance space is a haunting of sorts, visual imagery of a suppressed voice that is left to its own devices to create its own presence. Bizarre and demanding, it sometimes serves as a reminder of a chilling non-future, the spectre of ‘what is to come if the luxuries of freedom are further curtailed?’

Before my interview with the artists and the director, Thanapol Virulhakul, in April this year, I had anticipated this work to be similar to an earlier iteration staged at Bangkok International Performing Art Meeting 2018, when contemporary dancer Vidura was paired with traditional songstress Champa. But the nuances that Thanapol wanted to evoke in this iteration, through the (un)disciplining of the body and the revoking of Champa’s prominence, was no longer about impossible intergenerational encounters between artists who had just met. It was a mobilisation of the body politic, to cut against the grain of authoritarianisms of history, the present and the future. A queering of time, space and expectations.


I gathered that the (un)disciplining of the body was the main intention of this work. As a dancer, I recognised the labour that went into the learning of many types of dances in Intermission. For example, Classical Thai Khon gestures are intricate and precise. It takes time to discipline the body, to train it to take on the different Thai poses and to allow these to sit-in into a body — the placement of fingers, limbs, spine, feet are all working in tandem with one another. The same could be said when Vidura performed her cheerleading sets and the militaristic marching drills she did vigorously with Paopoom, which involved a concerted coordination of the upper and lower body. The cheerleading routines engaged the diaphragm as well, to verbalise cheering prompts; and the marching drills required the visual and aural synchrony of boots in contact with the ground.

Vidura is a cheerleader, shouting the usual cheers to gain our attention. I want to cheer with her, like how anyone would in a stadium. But what am I cheering for? Her effort? The bizarre moment of being in a black box and not a stadium? I keep mum, even when my heart urges me to punch my hand in the air in support of this cheery moment. What does it mean to cheer alongside her? I am sceptical of this moment. Suddenly something as simple as cheering becomes a heavy act.

I was most intrigued and entertained by the playful scene in which the “six fundamental manners” in Thai culture were gradually deconstructed and reconstructed with new ‘fundamentals' that at times bordered the intersections of vulgarity and permissibility. Masked behind the obvious task-based group-playing of enacting the next movement, the giggles and the suppressing of laughter, although mild, held a weight so heavy that made me feel complicit. At that moment, it felt like the performance in a black box setting, or even ‘performing’, became a prison. The little giggles of the artists, as if laughing at a joke only they understood, somehow made me feel that their in-group ‘misdemeanour’ was a result of having to perform something properly to us, but as everything in that moment was improvisatory and could potentially be amusing, they performed it with suppressed laughter.

I wish I had an invite. To laugh with them. But I know this is not my fight, it's theirs. Their faces are red and their laughter muffled. I want to join in as soon as the vulgarism of movements becomes evident. Looks like a moment where I can bond with them. The gestures are not too cultural, this vulgarism is anti-culture. Oh wait, is this really not my fight? Is their fight not mine too?

Intermission sets out to kill joy, to remind one of the quotidian realities of a present and the potentiality of a non-future. Can the dancing body truly thrive in an environment of suppression, non-organicity and non-spontaneity? I personally believe that the body doesn’t fully conform even when it has been disciplined to do so. Intermission shows pockets of urgent non-conformity and disobedience. It shows that despite the apparatuses that try to tame it, the body creeps, manoeuvres and bends accordingly through the crevices of rules and regulations, to show the organicity of the human will.

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