East meets west as Southern Thai Nora dance lands in Venice
In an unprecedented move, Thailand National Artist Thummanit Nikomrat thrilled spectators by performing the traditional Nora dance not on stage but in a gondola on a Venetian canal. Most had never seen this lively acrobatic form of dance before, let alone in a boat.
“If you like the performance, you can dance …Nora …Nora,” the Nora Master sang as he made the moves.
Credit for the novel idea goes to co-curators National Artist Amrit Chusuwan and Jim Sonjod who envisioned the powerful performance in a gondola while the master played out their vision by using his talent and skills to move so beautifully in a limited space.
“I’m so proud of bringing Nora to culturally rich Venice and I hope that it will pave the way for other Nora artists to come and perform here in the future,” said Master Thummanit.
The performance is part of the Songkhla’s “Spirit of Nora”, an art exhibition showcasing the continuing tradition of this dance from the South of Thailand that found its way to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2021. The exhibition is currently being held at Palazzo Pisani S. Marina. Venice until July 3.
“We believe that Nora is recognized internationally in terms of culture and if we can combine it with contemporary art and change the belief and feel, Nora can be sustained in today’s world,” said Amrit, one of the honorary artists of the Songkhla Pavilion and a key man behind the exhibition.
In recognition of the importance of Nora as an art that reflects the rich culture and traditions, the art exhibition is an attempt to reach out and keep Nora alive, thus preventing the tradition from becoming extinct and allowing it to continue as the symbol of the South of Thailand.
The Nora dance characterizes the people of Thailand’s Southern region and their culture. The tempo generated by drums and other percussion instruments, the unique poses with swift hand movements and sharp curves of the arms, along with the exquisite costumes decorated with colorful beads and a tapered headdress make Nora a sight to behold.
Independent artist group Songkhla Pavilion is presenting “Spirit of Nora” art exhibition that features the works of the Nora Master and Nora cultural artists alongside five leading Thai contemporary artists who have been invited to reflect upon the living spirit of this art form that embodies the complexity of historical and cultural assimilations along the ancient maritime silk route connecting the West and the East in the Southern region of Thailand with Songkhla as one of its epicenters.
The honorary artists are HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya, Nora Cultural Artists Kuan Tuanyok, Sathaporn Srisajjang and Thummanit, and contemporary artists Waranun Chatchawantipakorn, Amrit, Sakwut Wisesmanee, Sutee Kunavichayanont and Witaya Junma,
Apart from performing arts, the exhibition brings leading Thai artists and their interpretation and inspiration from the Nora dance to the venue. For example, “‘Nora: Tangible & Intangible Memories” by Sutee Kunavichayanont showcases an attempt to transform this intangible heritage into a ‘tangible’ one through drawings of Nora stories and performances on a blackboard. The drawings become images of memories before being steadily erased, leaving only some traces of memories. Only the remains of dust from the erased chalk are left visible and tangible.
Artist Waranun presents 6 photographic works about Nora such as Pranboon, Nora embryo and Saman Suebsarnsil, capturing historical moments through this perspective by showing an impression of the dancer’s body and the performance of Nora while the dancer is on stage. The artworks communicate to the audience the interest and understanding of the Nora tradition through photographic dance moves.
Sakwut Wisetmanee’s “Nora” showcases paintings, a series of works that imply the magic of the Nora dance for rituals. The black lines contrast with the gold, creating a mysterious old feel to represent the long-standing beliefs of the local people. The artist portrays Nora’s charm that stems from her dance moves and dancers who deliver so much power to the audience that they find it hard to forget.
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By Veena Thoopkrajae