Jerome Bel/ Pichet Klunchun and Myself

Photo by R.B.

A slight man from Thailand, dressed in all black, and a slightly balding man from France, dressed in pants and a hot pink button down shirt, sit a good distance apart in chairs facing one another on DTW's stage. A conversation ensues.

It is a performance of a conversation between two men and two cultures, a live documentary on forms of dance and dance making. The men, and the performance itself, ask questions about the nature of performance and the role of art in 2007. In a time of lighting-speed global travel and media overwhelm, what does live dance performance offer?

Jerome Bel and Pichet Klunchun gently share words and movements. There is a stilted quality to their discussion, a slight awkwardness while they communicate things very close to their hearts. There is an innocence that comes from not knowing where to begin. Some of their assumptions are so fundamental it takes them a while to reach understanding, if they do at all.

Bel, the man from France, exists in the pulsing center of an exploration about what contemporary dance is. He speaks clearly and poignantly about his favorite movement, standing still, and about his reasons for not wanting to do fancy jumps and turns, for not wanting the audience to feel “dominated by the performer.” While he has trained and performed in classical Western dance forms, his work moves far away from them.

Klunchun, the man from Thailand, is, on the other hand, steeped in the technique and performance of a centuries-old traditional Thai dance form, Kohn. He is in the process of reclaiming this dance, bringing it back to the theater, away from the restaurants and tourists who have subsumed it. He shares with Bel, and with us, the precise, exquisite movements of this dance.

While the men come from different aesthetics: West/East, Contemporary/Traditional, Pedestrian/Technical, they take up remarkably similar challenges. They both search for their own truths within dance, sometimes against considerable pressure to do something else. They both speak about failure. They both work against modern audiences’ needs for something to hold onto. Ironically, by working in extremes of very new and very old, they both test the stamina of their audience.

Klunchun talks about scores of tourists collecting pictures of Kohn dances instead of experiencing them; he’s working to bring focus back to the dance. He shares that a true Kohn dance could take one full week to be performed. Bel, influenced by French philosopher Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, speaks about people living surrounded by representation so that they see, but don’t live their lives. He talks about not wanting to give them flashy dance moves precisely because that’s what they are expecting. (And people, including a well-known flashy dance choreographer, do leave the theater the night I’m there.)

About standing still, the scruffy and endearing Bel has much to say, “With this scene, I was reaching the essence of the theater- pretentious-but I was trying to show what’s specific about theater. Time and space shared with audience. They watch me and I watch them instead of pretending I’m in the 15th Century.”

Klunchun responds, “I know this from the Buddhists, ‘You must stay in the present. No future, no past.'" And then, “ Do you have something bigger than this to show me?”

I leave the theater wondering what could be bigger.

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