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“No. 60”: Klunchun deconstructs the Khon

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Photo from TPAC
Thai dancer/choreographer Pichet Klunchun (right) and his student Kornkarn Rungsawang at the Aug. 7 press conference in Taipei.

By Yali Chen
Thai dancer/choreographer Pichet Klunchun presented his latest work “No. 60” on August 8 and 9 at the Wellspring Theater in Taipei as part of the 2020 Taipei Arts Festival. The world premiere of “No. 60” took place at the Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama, Japan on February 15.
Klunchun began training in Thai classical Khon mask dance at the age of 16 with Chaiyot Khummanee, one of the best Khon masters in Thailand. After earning a BA in Thai classical dance from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Klunchun started to merge the language of traditional Thai classical dance with a contemporary sensibility. He also took part in many international collaborations and founded Thailand’s first contemporary dance company.

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Photo from TPAC
Thai dancer/choreographer Pichet Klunchun (right) and Kornkarn Rungsawang rehearse at the press conference in Taipei on August 7.

Klunchun has spent years learning the Theppanom canon of basic poses and movements. He won an Asian Cultural Council fellowship that allowed him to study in New York City and at UCLA, where he looked for ways to deconstruct the Khon and integrate contemporary dance movements.
“The concept for ‘No. 60’ came from my study of traditional dance with its 59 core poses and movements,” said Klunchun. “All Thai classical dancers learn them by rote.” In 2018, Thailand’s traditional Khon masked dance drama was listed by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
“No. 60” is a 65-minute duet performed by Klunchun and his student Kornkarn Rungsawang in which they take the Khon’s 59 poses as starting points and gradually deconstruct them.

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Photo from TPAC
Thai dancer/choreographer Pichet Klunchun (center) deconstructs Thai classical Khon mask dance by combining a contemporary sensibility and patterns of movement.

Klunchun’s objective is to create the 60th pose drawn from the many movements of the No. 60 dance. “But we have not yet reached that objective,” he said during the opening press conference. “It’s more like a concept, an expression of the philosophy of relativity and fluidity.”
Klunchun explained that the “No. 60” pose would answer two core questions that underpin his repertoire: Who am I? and What is the meaning of my dance? This notion of a personal aesthetic and its expression is very important to the choreographer.
In their performance at the press conference, Klunchun and Rungsawang moved with perfect synchronicity, their dance covering every corner of the stage. They paused in unison, their frozen poses clearly expressing Klunchun’s yearning to finally create No. 60.