UNOFFICIAL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE PERFORMANCE
Pichet Klunchun & Myself (2005)
Concept: Jerome Bêl
Performed by: Pichet Klunchun & Jerome Bêl
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Novalis Theater
Co-presented by Dancers’ Group
March 3, 2009
Transcribed by Keith Hennessy.
This is not verbatim, although it often is. I think I skipped a few sections. Sometimes I recorded only fragments of a question or response. Sometimes I described movement and other times I did not.
Two simple chairs face each other, about twenty feet apart, downstage but not close to the edge. Beside each chair is a bottle of water. On the floor beside the stage left chair is a laptop, with cables extending off stage.
Two men enter, and sit. JB wears shoes. PK is barefoot. PK takes a drink. JB lifts laptop to his lap. The interview begins. The mood is pretty dry, occasionally funny. Generally PK seems more sincere than JB, i.e., that JB includes more information in his tone, attitude, style, and sometimes seems to comment drolely when responding to PK’s responses. The work is a reproduction of their initial meeting, in which they interview and explain their work to each other. They speak in English, with accents that reveal that this is neither of their mother tongues. The conversation is spacious, unhurried, and thus I was able to nearly match their speaking pace in writing.
JB. What is your name? PK. Pichet Klunchun.
JB. How old are you? PK. 35.
JB. Where do you live? PK. Bangkok.
JB. Are you married? PK. Not yet.
JB. What is your profession? PK. Dancer.
JB. Why are you a dancer?
PK. Why become a dancer? It’s quite a long story. (pause. Audience waits, then giggles.) Do you want to know? (JB affirms yes.) Before I was born, I had three sisters. A boy – very important to Thai culture. My mother prayed at the temple. (The story continues… but does not seem to directly answer the question.)
JB. Why did you become a dancer? Because a statue likes to see dance performances?
JB. What kind of dance do you do?
PK. Kun. A 200 year old form, originally from India, same story as the Ramayana (I didn’t catch the Thai name.) Kun represents the King.
JB. The king is a dancer? Our tradition in the West is Ballet? You know?
PK. I know.
JB. Ballet is French, comes from a king, Louis XIV. He was a good dancer. He created the Royal Academy of Dance which has become the Paris Opera Ballet. He was a dancer himself. All the dances were about him and he was at the center. He used the performance to give a good image, a good representation of himself before the court. It’s political. Because at that time they didn’t have TV.
PK. Same. We didn’t have TV at that time either. (PK continues, describes changes in Kun since Thailand became a democracy.) Big skirts, umbrellas, these are not Thai. Kun does not belong to the king now. It belongs to tourists. They buy a package: five star hotel, good food, and a Kun performance, sometimes around a swimming pool.
JB. Kun is a cultural product to attract tourists? PK. Yes.
JB. Can you show me? PK. Which one.
JB. You have many? PK. Yes many.
JB. The best one.
(PK gets up).
PK. This is beginning. (He takes a wide stance, legs turned out, and bends his knees. His hands, cocked sharply at the wrist, palms facing towards audience, arms outstretched. High steps and stomping the floor.) We do this for three hours. (He finishes in a deep 2nd plié, as he started.)
JB. This looks like exercise, like a warm up. Can you show me, after beginning?
PK. Next step?
PK. Like ballet. This is the same. (He shows a precise series of positions, shifting weight from one foot to the other to make steps, arms in front of torso. Hands between fists and palms facing out, wrists at 90 degrees. Most of the steps, weight shifts are quiet. Some louder stomps. The head inclines one side, then another.
JB. Thank you.
PK. You’re welcome.
JB. This whole thing is 40 (I don’t understand what I wrote here. Did I mean minutes?)
I’m surprised at how you hold your head.
PK. Kun is a mask performance. When I open (lift) my chin, I can see. When I drop my chin (to align head with neck) I can’t see anything. Mask represents character. We have four: female, male, demon, monkey.
JB. Can you show me?
PK. Yes but monkey is not my special.
JB. You’re not a good monkey?
PK. Because of my body. I’m tall.
(PK demonstrates. Female. Begin with hands, fingers, leading away from arm, body, smooth, curving fingers. He ends with what seem to be monkey gestures.)
JB. I can’t distinguish male and demon. Female beginning and monkey at the end are more clear.
(PK explains and shows how he represents characters with relation of middle finger position’s relationship to head. Female, finger is at height of corner of the eye. Male, forehead. Monkey, crown. Demon, fingers point down. Then PK describes the role of text, which is spoken by one actor, for all characters.)
JB. Dance and text are very connected?
JB. So you know the text?
JB. Can you perform the dance and the text?
PK. This is not normal.
(PK does a demo of Demon speaking to King, with movement. He speaks in Thai then English.)
PK. The whole story is war and fighting between King and Demon.
JB. Can you show me a scene that is violent?
PK. I have a lot because I am trained to be Demon. I am fighting all the time.
(PK does a dance of tightly controlled gestures, very specific shapes, detailed hands. When a knee is bent, whether in lunge or high step, it is often bent 90 degrees. The style recalls kung fu or other Asian martial art forms, including the low stance, tall back, sharp positions. At one point I see a mime representation of a bow and arrow. Otherwise the dance does not appear to be violent.)
JB. We have a misunderstanding.
(PK repeats the movement, explaining each gesture or motion. When he releases the (mime) arrow, JB clowns to avoid it. The dance explained reveals the King’s super powers and the Demon’s prayer of breathing that restores his damaged limbs. A flick of the thumb, quickly releasing pinkie, is explained as a violent gesture, still meaningful and therefore socially dangerous today.)
JB. Can you perform the character dying on stage?
PK. No. It’s bad luck to die on stage.
JB. For whom?
PK. For me and for my country. (pause) We have another strategy to represent death on stage. I need your help.
JB. Is it dangerous?
(PK demonstrates staggering off stage.)
JB. How does the audience know he’s dead?
PK. Because he doesn’t come back.
(PK demonstrates the funeral procession of a family. He walks slowly, SR to SL, articulating the heel to toe motion, eyes looking down. It’s very slow.)
JB. How long is the performance?
PK. One week. Every death has a procession, up to 20 minutes.
(PK dances a crying female.)
JB. This is very beautiful. I like this very much.
(PK repeats the choreography, again explaining each action and what it communicates. A woman hears that her husband has been killed. First the shock of the news. Then she turns away so as not to be seen crying. We see her cry through her back. She restores composure. And is angry.
JB. Everything is meaningful. Every gesture expresses a pure idea.
PK. This is idea from Thai classical dance. Small gesture, big effect.
JB. Can you perform something funny?
PK. No. All funny comes from Monkey.
JB. And you’re not a good monkey?
JB. Too bad.
JB. No more questions. Now I want to embody the dance. Can you teach me?
PK. I’ll show you Demon.
JB. I prefer Female.
(Lesson. Slow walk exercise with bent wrist gesture. A while passes.)
JB. Thank you. It hurts.
(They have a brief discussion of the extreme wrist flexion, which is copies architecture of Thai temples.)
PK. My body is the temple. In the temple is Buddha.
(He continues, explaining how energy extends out from the center of the chest and is returned to center by finger and foot gestures, flexed wrists and ankles, curving actions.)
PK. All the time, small and big circles to send energy out and return it back to center.
JB. You have this in mind all through the dance?
(He demonstrates again how energy is recycled by the dance, out from center and then returned to center.)
PK. Different from you. You throw energy away.
(PK leaps, arms tossed into space. We laugh.)
PK. You do.
(JB starts to analyze ballet and then simply agrees.)
JB. Yes we throw energy away.
JB. Thank you. I am impressed. (something about sophisticated knowledge). But this dance is for tourists.
PK. Yes, now.
JB. But do the tourists get the complexity?
JB. So what do you do?
PK. My idea is to return Kun performance to my community again. Today young Thai don’t appreciate Kun.
PK. They don’t know the meaning, the code.
JB. Thai people are like me.
PK. They’re better. You want to understand.
(PK demonstrates another dance.)
PK. What is this?
(JB guesses. PK explains that the gesture represents rain. Then he shows a funeral walk with rain gesture.)
JB. This is a funeral. It starts to rain. It is sad.
(They discuss the trouble of not knowing meaning, like reading a book and not knowing the words. Seven days. Very boring.
PK. I know your name. Jerome Bêl. You’re famous.
JB. In Thailand?
JB. In Europe.
PK. What is the meaning in your name?
JB. No meaning. (pause). In the west we have a big book, the bible. The tradition is to give the baby a name of a guy in the bible. I don’t know if Jerome is in the bible. Bêl is beautiful in French. What is the meaning of your name?
PK. Pichet: wonderful and perfect.
PK. Are you married?
JB. No but I have a daughter and a family.
PK. You are not married?
PK. This baby came from where?
JB. You are a big boy.
PK. In Thai, marry first, baby second.
(JB explains that marriage is not required in the West or France. PK says that he answered, “Not yet,” earlier to the marriage question because he would like a child but doesn’t yet have a wife. He said he’d like to have a child and not get married. JB suggested he move to the West.)
PK. What is your profession?
JB. I am identified as a choreographer but I’m not a real one.
PK. What do you do?
JB. OK. My job is to think, what is possible in this space, which is a theater. What can we do in a theater? I don’t care if I use text, video, dance…
PK. I don’t understand.
JB. You’re not alone.
PK. Can you show me?
JB. No. I’m not a performer anymore. I have a company.
PK. You ask me anything…
JB. OK but this is not my special. I’m not good. I’ll show you my favorite scene. I try to put it in all my performances.
(JB stands. He looks at the audience, or sees the audience. Arms go behind back. Look again. He clarifies beginning and end.)
JB. You want me to explain?
JB. I was a dancer for 10 years and one day I stopped because I couldn’t find meaning. I stopped. I read books, sociology, philosophy, art criticism, for two years, and these books led me to this.
In all these books, there was one, La société du spectacle, written in the 70s, but still relevant. We are surrounded by representation. But I was part of the spectacle, to entertain. So there was a struggle, how to keep doing performances, which I love, but how to do spectacle without being the société du spectacle.
So in this scene, there is no spectacle. I am doing nothing. I am aware of you, of the audience. If someone coughs, I look. I’m aware that there is an audience, not a sea. I’m reaching the essence of performance. Here and now. If you watch TV, it can happen at the same time, but elsewhere. Film is prerecorded.
PK. I understand. Does the audience?
JB. More or less. That’s why I keep doing this.
PK. Good luck. Anything bigger?
JB. Yes. It’s less interesting.
This is an extract from The Show Must Go On. (JB explains that there are 20 performers in the piece. He finds the music via tunes on his Apple laptop, which is connected to the overall sound system. We hear all the beeps. Bowie’s Let’s Dance fills the hall. A bold beat. JB stands like he had before. We laugh. Then he dances as if alone, or in a club with friends he doesn’t need to impress. “Let’s sway.” He stands again. Looks. Think Steve Paxton but with less looking. Think Steve Paxton standing, Deborah Hay inviting being seen. One minute passes. Then he dances again.)
PK. Jerome, I’m very disappointed.
JB. I know. Why?
PK. I’m waiting for something, unbelievable.
JB. Like a leg, here. (He indicates with his arm where a ballet dancers’ leg might go.)
I don’t want to give the audience what they want. So there is a disappointment. If I jump and turn at the same time, the audience will be impressed. This is not the relation I want. I want something more equal. So we dance like them, like everybody else. If I do something special, it’s too distant. You have a king. In France we cut off the king’s head 200 years ago. We try to be equal. We’re working on it.
PK. Yes, we still have a king and he is good.
If everyone can do it, why do they pay?
JB. Sometimes they ask for their money back.
JB. Sometimes during.
PK. Do you give it back?
JB. No. No no no.
I will explain about art and money. I belong to a very small group of people, interested in contemporary arts. In this group are three different groups.
Artist. The contemporary artist job is to represent contemporary reality, the latest, but reality changes, so he needs new forms, new recipes. To create new forms, he needs research. For this research he needs to eat. He needs money.
The state saves a little money for the contemporary arts. They don’t know what he will produce. Even the artist doesn’t know. Otherwise he’s not contemporary.
The third group, audience. They don’t know what they will see. I don’t give money back because I didn’t promise anything. It’s research. It took a few years. In the beginning, I would say, I’m wrong, I’m wrong!
At the Paris Opera, in Swan Lake, you get swans. You get the lake. You get Tchaikovsky.
In contemporary dance, maybe you don’t see swans. Maybe a duck.
PK. Thank you.
JB. You’re welcome.
PK. It’s clear.
JB. My first piece. It’s very boring. With objects.
(JB stands, holds a water bottle and pocket full of change, and then drops them. Then he lowers himself to the ground.)
PK. Thank you.
JB. Is it bad luck?
PK. For who?
JB. For M. Sarkozy.
PK. No, because you represent yourself.
JB. Do you want to see another?
JB. Also from The Show Must Go On.
(JB sets another song to play. JB stands, again, and begins to lipsynch Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly. Feet parallel, long arms. The lipsynch is not dramatic or theatrical, not like a drag queen. Minimal. Dead pan. He starts to descend, knees bend, he reaches for the floor, maintaining eye contact with PK. He sits, reclines on right hip. Laughter from the audience. He lowers his head and torso to the floor, continues to look. He stops lipsynching, closes eyes. He ‘dies,’ killed softly by this song. More laughter. At least a full minute passes. Nothing happens. The song ends. JB gets up, returns to chair, sits.)
PK. You remind me of someone I love. My mother. She died four years ago. I’m very happy when she died.
PK. Because she was sick, paralyzed.
PK. For eleven years. Her last moment was like this (meaning JB’s onstage death.)
JB. I’m sorry.
Theatrically what you are describing is what I want to produce. The song is 4’48” ad I die early in the song so there is a lot of space. Who am I? I don’t know more about death than the audience. Maybe I know more about theater. I try to give space…
PK. I got it.
Thank you. It’s beautiful.
PK. Someone told me you’re naked.
JB. Not me, my performers. You know I love dance. You can’t see this but when I see you I am jealous. I try to force me to make dance. What is instrument of dance?
JB. So if we are naked, it is sure to be dance. I’ll show you what happened.
(JB rolls up sleeve and lifts shirt to reveal belly. He grabs flesh with both hands and begins to play/investigate pulling handfuls of flesh. He undoes his pants.)
JB. I show the next scene.
PK. I don’t want you naked in front of me.
JB. OK. Why?
PK. Because this is my culture.
JB. Thai culture?
JB. But in Bangkok, I saw very naked.
PK. They are working.
JB. Me too. This is my job.
PK. But they are working for foreigner.
JB. Thai people don’t go?
JB. You mean it’s OK for tourist.
(Now they stand.)
Who? Thank you.
(They face us. Bow. Exit. Second bow. More applause, with voices. They bow Thai/Buddhist style. Exit.)