Question: is Bangkok culture-deprived? This serious charge was levelled, in a way, at Thailand’s frenetic capital in a rather casual, off-the-cuff manner in a CNN.com article in 2010.
Since the crux of the article was about the city’s International Festival of Dance and Music, we can give the media outlet the benefit of the doubt and assume the writer in question was not oblivious to the fact that even well beyond the Grand Palace, Jim Thompson House, Wat Arun and Wat Pho, the city is the cradle of Thai culture. The over 15 million people who visit Bangkok every year, after all, are not just in it for the street food.
One Trick Pony?
But again, it begs the question: why do so few of the countless travel articles devoted to Bangkok’s festival scene include the likes of the International Festival of Dance and Music? Could it have something to do with the fact that the majority of the city’s festivals are religious, traditional, royal or crassly commercial?
Perhaps. But why decry the lack of a vibrant independent arts scene worthy of a metropolis of 15 million people when you can focus on the positive (and avert a fraught debate about Western arrogance and cultural imperialism in the process)?
This is where the superb International Festival of Dance and Music comes in. Thank goodness for it. The festival, now in its 15th year, is a bulwark and the one annual event in Thailand that is truly global in scope.
In its inaugural year the festival’s ambit was modest. The programme at the time featured six performances and some 200 artists. Fast forward a decade and a half and the event delivers five weeks’ worth of performances that feature more than 1,000 artists from every corner of the globe.
The objective, ambitious and difficult as it was from the start, was to forge and project a different image of Bangkok not just to the world but, indeed, within Thailand. The country’s somewhat one-dimensional reputation as a tourist destination has bred, for better or worse, some deeply-entrenched stereotypes. The organisers of the International Festival of Dance and Music have sought to shift the discussion.
Nobody’s declaring mission accomplished quite yet but the festival certainly can’t be characterised as anything but a success. It has established critical ties with other arts organisations in Asia, Europe, North America and Australia and won influence with government and corporate sponsors – surely one of the most critical achievements for the long-term health of any festival.
The Lineup for 2013
While a shame the International Festival of Dance and Music’s website isn’t up to snuff, it’s possible to take scope of what amounts to a very strong slate of performances for the 15th edition this September. Highlights include American jazz legend Chick Corea, the Geneva Ballet’s peformance of Romeo and Juliet, Moscow’s Helikon Opera Symphony Orchestra and the Teatro Regio di Parma Orchestra.
All just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Performances continue throughout Bangkok until the end of September and into October as well. There’s still plenty of time book that Bangkok Sukhumvit hotel and catch all the action. And, moreover, answer the question at the top with a resounding “no.”
While in Bangkok, Jeff learnt all about the local dance and music culture and gained some valuable experience around various festivals that are held throughout the year.