Review: ‘Intermission’ by Thanapol Virulhakul explores dance and freedom of expression in Thailand

, Review: ‘Intermission’ by Thanapol Virulhakul explores dance and freedom of expression in Thailand
Photo: SIFA

How does the way we dance reflect the state of our nations and cities? How do we question what we’ve been taught—and how we’ve been conditioned to move through the world—by upending those given movements and creating a new kind of choreography?

Those are the questions director Thanapol Virulhakul set out to explore in Intermission, a piece created in collaboration with the Bangkok International Performing Arts Meeting (BIPAM) and George Town Festival (GTF).

Intermission combines traditional Thai music and contemporary dance practice, examining how freedom of expression and creative movement unfold in Thailand’s sociopolitical context.

A state of intermission

Virulhakul brought together folk singer Champa Saenprom and contemporary dancer Vidura Amranand to craft a performance that would envision an empowered and creative future for his country, fuelled by self-expression outside of the state’s control.

Greatly inspired by Amranand’s post-modern dance background in Canada and the United States, he began researching dance history and soon realised that post-modern dance had never developed in Thailand quite the way it had abroad.

This shaped his vision for this unique production, the possibility of an imaginary post-modern period in Thai history materialising outside of tangible time and space. He came to the idea of the “intermission,” a period that, just like Thai post-modern dance, exists yet doesn’t exist at the same time.

Choreographed citizens

This imagined time frame is used in Intermission to look at how the country’s sociopolitical structures infiltrate all areas of a citizen’s life, from the education system to clothing and movement, even enveloping something as simple as wandering the city.

Virulhakul’s choreography carefully recreates the state’s imposed movements and gestures, reframing how these are embodied by each citizen and how we can carefully step out of these given boundaries.

During key moments, this bold and risky exploration of the body as a political site is meaningfully set against Saenprom’s powerful chant, evoking protection of the “Kwan”—the human soul.

Starting the conversation

Despite the deeply abstract nature of Intermission, it has the potential to resonate even with audience members who aren’t familiar with Thailand’s sociopolitical context.

There is an overarching sense of unease in this performance that many Singaporeans are sure to identify with, the struggle for self-expression and freedom from an established “choreography” palpable even in the performance’s most absurd moments.

It’s definitely not the most accessible production, but it brings immense value to the Singapore International Festival of Arts, encouraging a cross-cultural conversation about art and identity in a tightly regulated state.

, Review: ‘Intermission’ by Thanapol Virulhakul explores dance and freedom of expression in Thailand

Intermission was performed over two nights on Jun 2 and 3 at Drama Centre Black Box under SIFA X.