Arts & Culture

George Town Festival 2019: Taking Flight with BIRD

A collaboration between Thailand and Finland

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B-Side went down for the final weekend of George Town Festival 2019. This week, we’re dropping a special five-part series, featuring performances and interviews with their South East Asian lineup. This is Part 1 of 5 keep a look out!

In the centre of the dimly lit stage sat a structure resembling a cage, an institution or a physical boundary that seemed heavy and unmoving. Blue bodies lay still while the audience members shuffled in, captured by this somber sight that seemed beautiful and suffocating at the same time. Then the theatre lights dimmed, limbs grew from that sea of blue and the show began.

BIRD is a collaboration between visual theatre company WHS from Finland and Pichet Klunchun Dance Company (PKDC) from Thailand, with direction coming from Ville Walo while Pichet Klunchun choreographed this work. With a strong focus on body language, rhythm and shaping the movement to revolve this gigantic cage dominating the stage, the performance challenges the audience to question boundaries — of our homes, societies and countries.

All from the perspective of birds.

Starting with a singular bird puppet, there was a sense of innocence and trying to figure out spatial relationships between the dancers and the birds. However, as the performance continued, more birds appeared and started to physically manipulate the dancers, masking their faces and turning the tables on who the true puppeteer was.

Dark and challenging certain ideas that society may hold dear today, BIRD left us questioning and needing answers.

To gain further insight into this collaboration and the working process, B-Side learns more through Pichet Klunchun’s perspective.

How did the two companies come together to collaborate on this performance?

I met Anne few years ago and we discussed an interest in working together. I was interested in working with WHS because I had never worked with “circus” artists before. I thought it would be interesting to learn about the skills from this kind of work and find the connection to work together.

It took two years to develop the piece. Anne and Ville would fly to Bangkok to work with PKDC dancers twice a year.

Share with us how the process was like. What was most memorable about this partnership, and were there any challenges due to possible cultural differences?

It started from letting the dancers learn how to manipulate objects and basic circus tricks such as “trolling balls” (juggling). In the first year, PKDC dancers learned the way to manage objects, concept, meaning and key thought of “contemporary circus”. For WHS, they learned about PKDC company techniques and dance style and how we work. We used “improvisation” to explore any possibilities and find materials and tell stories. In the second year, we selected what we did during the first year and put them together as a performance.

The most memorable thing for me is the learning process during the two years. PKDC dancers learned something new, which is “object manipulation”. It is something new and exciting because dancers normally only work with their body. The big challenge is “there was no place for mistake for contemporary circus.”

Dancers must practice to be “super precise” with everything. In dancing, there is a way to manage mistakes during the show but in circus, there is none. The two art forms have different focus.

The heart of circus is preciseness, gravity and objects manipulation. The heart of dance is “freedom” and adaptation.

We enjoy the differences in our two cultures while working together.

Tell us more about how non-verbal performances add to the audience experience. Does the lack of text or dialogue add to the experience?

The lack of text does add experience. It gives “pure imagination and interpretation of one’s own,” depending on one’s experience.

What is your opinion on the concept of freedom?

Freedom allows you to create “future”.

What do you think we have to do to be truly free in today’s world?

We cannot be “truly free” if we still have to live under the rule of the society. It is not possible. However, we can choose the best thing for ourselves to live freely and be safe.

Photography courtesy of BIRD and George Town Festival 2019

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