“When I collaborate, I want to collaborate with the wrong person.”
Pichet Klunchun, Thai dancer, and director reveals a glint of mischief behind his earnest and gentle demeanor.
“I am looking for misunderstandings, for opportunities to negotiate. When things are wrong, they are right.” 
When I was initially brought as a dramaturg into the Mahajanaka Dance Drama project, directed by composer Sebastian Reynolds and choreographer Adrienne Hart (Neon Dance), in collaboration with Klunchun and Thai musicians Pradit Saengkrai and Great Lekakul, we began by asking “how can we tell a story from the Buddhist mythology using traditional Thai and contemporary Western art forms?”
Mahajanaka Dance Drama is a retelling of one of the Jataka stories, a set of myths about the previous lives of the Buddha. Originally Indian, the stories have different versions across Buddhist traditions, including the Thai tradition.
The catalyst for the collaboration came from Reynolds’ long-standing engagement with Buddhist culture in the UK, and visits to Thailand to learn about the Thai dance and music tradition. Work on Mahajanaka Dance Drama began when Hart and Reynolds traveled to Bangkok to meet Klunchun, Saengkrai, and Lekakul, and initiated the conversations that would lead to this intercultural and multi-artform collaboration.
The story of Prince Mahajanaka is told through Thai dance and music, which is traditionally performed as part of temple rituals to provide an offering of dance and music to the gods. The creative team were interested in how they could use traditional and Western cultural forms to revisit the story and open it to a new audience, or at least within a new context.
But this project is not a simple coming together of two cultural traditions to jointly tell a tale. Reynolds’ prior knowledge of the Thai Buddhist tradition, and engagement with the literature of the Jatakas through collaboration with scholar and Jataka translator Dr. Sarah Shaw, allowed him to bring considerable expertise to the collaboration. Indeed, as the collaboration began, discussion emerged about the existing historical Western (French) influences on the “traditional” Thai forms, complicating a superficially easy-to-tell story about “East meets West.”
Read the complete article by Miranda Laurence on The Theatre Times.
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