19 May 2024

A year after the  “Spirit of Nora” was held in Venice, the exhibition has returned home to Thailand where only a few people have ever watched or caught a glimpse of this Southern performing art on the stage.

The Nora traditional dance travelled to Venice, Italy, around this time last year to join the Venice Biennale, one of the world’s oldest contemporary art festivals. There, Thailand National Artist Thummanit Nikomrat impressed everyone with his powerful Nora dance on a gondola. It stunned all the spectators and was well documented on film and in photographs.

Now those who missed the Venice performances can revisit the art form here in Bangkok, as the organiser, Songkhla Pavilion, is showcasing the Nora’s heritage in an exhibition “Spirit of NORA: Nora Visits the City” at the fourth floor studio of the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC) until March 26. This is a rare chance to view arts of various disciplines in the Nora performance.

Kid and Pran Boon (the hunter).

Parts of the Nora costumes are displayed on the wall and lead visitors into the main exhibition in the studio room of BACC. Inside, people can learn the right name of each part of the Nora costume. As Nora dance is rare and performed only on special occasions and mostly in the southern provinces, only few people know the right names, such as the headdress which is called Serd or the breastplate which is named Tub-suang. Even the baby boomers will struggle to get these names right.

In one corner stands a larger-than-life sculpture of the famous Nora character “Pran Boon”, a hunter.  The 360cm-high Pran Boon is created by Prachya Ladachat and Suphatida Thammahol using foam and aluminum.

NORA comes back to city after a venice tour.

“Nora Visit City” may not boast a full interactive art exhibition but visitors, especially young kids and foreigners, will enjoy “interacting” with the exhibition. Kids love posing for selfies with Nora dance-related art pieces, recording their impressions about the exhibition in one of the notebooks – also artworks – each of which has a cutout outline in the middle. Some foreigners like to copy the Nora dance poses of the exhibited 12 poses. Although Nora dance maser Thummanit only performed once in Bangkok at the opening, culture enthusiasts can still watch the performance on a video in which he and his company perform. Those interested in the details of the dance can also study the 12 poses of Nora Dance on a “poster” which features photos taken back in 1923.

The poses in vintage black-and-white print are enough to catch the attention and amaze with very acrobatic-like poses like Weaving Spider, Buffalo Horn or Divine Half Bird-Half-Man (Kinnon). The background music of Nora with its unique identity makes them even more impressive. As those who have watched a performance will know, each position is in harmony with the dynamic rhythm of the music.

NORA art by Sutee Kunavichayanont.

Also on display are paintings and artworks by more than 10 Thai artists including Sakwut Wisesmanee, Sutee Kunavichayanont and Witaya Junma whose works also travelled to Venice for the Biennale. Even a glimpse of the artworks inspired by the heritage will leave no one is any doubt why Nora has been named a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

And for those who did make it to Venice, walking around the exhibition in Bangkok will certainly bring back the memories, especially the photo exhibition “Manora National Artist in Venice” by Waranun Chutchawantipakorn that recalls the improvisational singing from the master on the gondola last year:  “If you like the performance, you can dance …Nora …Nora.”

Spirit of NORA: Nora Visits the City is at the Studio Room on the 4th floor of BAAC from now until March 26. The Center is closed on Monday. Admission is free.

Story and photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

Painting by Sakwut Wisesmanee.