Young classical performers capture audience's hearts

A troupe of young performers from Phetchaburi impressively related to their audience the Thai classical khon masked dance in the Prang Pootorn community near Bangkok's Giant Swing.

Normally, khon - an iconic Thai cultural performance - is performed by skilful adult performers and played at important events. However, this often difficult-to-watch performance was presented more simply to the public at an event called "Ban Nai Fan, Santi Suk Tuk Duang Jai" (A Dreamy House with Peace in All Hearts).

The event - aimed at promoting family ties and encouraging children to show their creativity freely and properly via different activities - was hosted by the Hope Family Musical Band, the Din Sor Sri Group and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation.

The khon play "The Ramayana Epic: Seuk Kumpakan" (The Kumpakan's Battle) was performed last Saturday, and a likay - Thai traditional drama - performance called "Phuchana Jai Nang" (The Hero Who Wins Her Heart) on Sunday.

Both shows were performed by young artists from Phetchaburi's Ton Kla Noi Cultural Group, whose youngest member is only three years old and the lead actress in the likay show.

The khon play was conducted by former Thai classical dancer Somsong Boonwan, 55, and its script was adapted so that children could easily follow the story line.

Somsong said 10 of the 45 performers had been abandoned at an early age and came into her care about three years ago. She said she later taught them Thai classical dance to help them earn a little money and protect them from drug abuse and crime.

She said that in order to revive and conserve Thai traditional arts, teaching them to a new generation and infusing new ideas and creativity into these forms of art was the way to go.

At about the age of five or six, the children started learning the most difficult part of Thai classical dance, prototypical dancing, which helped them learn graceful control of their bodies and movements.

Although the costumes and props were not very elaborate last weekend, the 50-minute khon performance was well received and met with loud applause in appreciation of the young talents' singing and dancing skills.

"We were paid Bt20,000 per three-hour show. From this sum, each child received Bt80 to Bt100, and the rest paid for their food, costumes and other expenses," said Somsong.

A nine-year-old Hanuman (the monkey warrior) in the khon show, Jedsadaporn Teddej, said that while his peers spent their after-school hours playing football or computer games, he preferred to practise his skills to keep his leading role.

Somsong also proudly talked about her three-year-old likay actress Suwanan Boonwan, who was left in her care two years ago. She said the girl was very talented and learned to sing and dance all by herself.

"She was really admired by the audience, because she could sing and dance both, just like older performers, even though I've never taught her directly. She learned it all through copying," said Somsong.

Besides the shows, there were several activities for children and their parents, such as making toys, painting flowerpots and building sandcastles. A concert was also performed by the Hope Family Band.

Ninnete Surarat
The Nation