Thai ghostbusters – Phi Ta Khon

by Clynt Whitaker | 1 January 2017

it draws you into the essence of the place

Thailand is a country of regional contrasts and one could argue that you really need to exit stage left from the mega-city of Bangkok in order to truly experience the beauty of the country, the warmth of the people, the out-of-this-world food and the rich history and traditions which are captured in a variety of festivals and celebrations. The so-called “Land of Smiles” is also a land of dance, music and song as the performing arts, sustained as they are by a strong sense of nationalism and royal patronage, run deep with the people – people from all walks of life, from the Royal court masked pantomime or Khon to small town Likay.

The formal “high art” of Khon often depicts scenes from the Ramakian, the national epic of Thailand which is an adaptation from the 5th century Indian Ramayana. Originally performed only for the Royal court, Khon evolved into one of the most elaborate forms of Southeast Asian dance-drama. The narrative of the drama – a variation of the hero’s journey, is conveyed through expressive gesture with (sometimes) a cast of hundreds (all men) – including monkey and demon figures and a singing chorus in the background.

In stark contrast the Likay is a local-countryside performance characterised by a mixture of spoken and sung text, bawdy – even slapstick comedy with flamboyant costumes performed by both men and women. These performers were risk-takers. Often showing a willingness to explore contentious local political controversies – “issues never far from the minds of most Thais” TatNews.

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