Monday, 16 March 2009
Thai School Girls Made Apsara!
"My Thai Girl and I"... the movie!
A day out of school at Sikoraphum.
School girls hard at work practicing their dance.
And next day transformed into apsaras.
Nearly a thousand years after these figures were carved in stone.
A final bow.
I’ve seen Niagara and a few of the world’s great water falls but none has the impact of the unexpected.
When in Sierra Leone exploring the jungle and pristine beaches to the west of Freetown, we stumbled across a small waterfall that was at least as memorable as Niagara. Following the sound of thundering waters, suddenly there it was, perfect, untouched, unvisited and with so much magic added by surprise.
Not far from our sleepy rice village in Isaan, we’ve recently had a similar experience, uplifting in its beauty and revelation, this time a display of traditional Thai dance at the ancient Khmer temple of Sikoraphum.
We had staying with us in our village home in Surin province some documentary makers, who were with us to shoot preliminary footage for a film version of MY THAI GIRL AND I, the book about my life in Thailand with Cat. As nothing much ever happens here, it was going to be hard to find things for them to shoot.
When you’ve seen one dry rice field you’ve seen the lot so I decided to take them to see the temple at Sikoraphum. Dating from the Angkor era and almost a thousand years old, the temple truly is a gem. It’s well preserved and maintained and has a very special atmosphere indeed.
Usually it’s deserted and there’s hardly a soul there but on arriving we found the lawns around the temple occupied by hundreds of school children from the nearby Sikoraphum Phisai School. A teacher explained to us that they were out of the class rooms for a few days for a special ‘integrated learning’ project, using trigonometry for example to measure the height of the temple stupas. And what’s more some of the school girls were practicing for a traditional Thai dance display to take place the very next day.
No movie maker would miss an opportunity like this so we came back the following day and the dance was even more special for being so unexpected. Previously while practicing the girls had been in sports clothes as they went through their dance routines, all giggling and worldly. Today in their elaborate costumes they were transported to another time, back to the Khmer empire, the era of Sukhotai or Ayuttaya. These were ordinary school girls made apsara, the lissom messengers of the gods, seen famously carved in stone at the temples of Angkor, and they danced like angels.
The setting was idyllic, the platform of the temple providing a perfect stage. The costumes complemented the warm browns of the temple’s brick work and the dancing itself was impeccable. I was utterly entranced.
The Thais love dance but so often their current obsession with coyote girls gyrating sexily to loud music obliterates all interest in more traditional forms. How sad this is as traditional dance is perhaps the finest of Thailand’s performing arts. Even in Bangkok it’s rarely seen today except in shows put on for tourists and then not always very well done. I was told a few years ago that traditional Thai dance is so much in decline that many of the forms and skills are being lost.
That a provincial school such as this one should thus excel itself in traditional dance and make so creative a use of its local temple is therefore a huge credit to them. I can only say that they gave us an unexpected and special moment which I for one shall certainly long remember.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Thailand, obsessed with sexy dancing from six year olds at school to almost every show on television, has abandoned it's love of traditional dance which is so very sad.
I'D LOVE TO HAVE YOUR COMMENTS.
Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” Blog March 2009