Monday, August 27, 2012

Bangkok International Festival of Dance & Music - Best Annual Events Thailand

Orchestras, opera companies and world-class classical and modern dancers perform at this September-October Bangkok festival. The yearly series is unrivaled in the region and probably  in East Asia. A pity so few tourists are aware of it.

Portugal's Quorum Ballet Company to Perform in Bangkok Festival.
Usually a classical ballet company from Russia or one of the former Soviet republics performs at the annual fall Bangkok International Festival of Dance and Music. I sometimes complain about the customary performance of The Nutcracker. In 2013, something really different is happening: Nutcracker on Ice!  Also some bits of Cinderella and Swan Lake.The performers were members of various Olympics and national teams, however, so it should be quite jaw-dropping.

Here's the calendar of 2013 performances with a bit more about the performersNo one would call is user friendly, I'm afraid. You need to keep going back to the calendar and start over. 

The above video of Portugal's Quorum Company is a bit misleading because the company will be performing another dance, "Correr o Fado." While there are Youtube videos of it, the quality is poor, so I chose a clip from "The Elements."  

German ballet company Karlsruhe will perform "Giselle." There will also be two operas ("The Barber of Seville" is one) and a concert performed by Russia's unconventional Helikon Opera Company; performances by US jazz pianist, Chick Corea and a triple bill of Dutch jazz musicians with Thailand's own legendary sax player, Mr. Koh; traditional dance by India's Shri Ram Bharataya Kala Kalendr; Ten Tenors from Australia; and Italy's Orchestra Teatro Regio di Parma with two opera singers. There are a few more but clicking around is downright exhausting.

It seems to me that the Bangkok International Festival of Dance & Music used to span six or eight weeks; in 2013, it will run a little over a month, beginning September 13.  About 18-20 performances take by 15-16 ensembles take place. Besides a classical ballet company, there is usually a symphony orchestra, a European opera company or two, an Indian classical dance company, a tango or flamenco company from a Spanish-speaking country and a couple of contemporary dance companies from the United States and Europe. Then each year there are a few oddities that don't fit with the general tone (such as this year's ice skaters and, in the past, the Vienna Choir Boys, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Swedish Jazz Kings).

Booking and Buying Festival Tickets

Mme Butterfly - Chelyabinsk State Opera

Booking through the ThaiTicket Major site isn't much fun either. If you get lost, look for the "Live Show" tab. Scroll down, keeping an eye on the left-hand side; the festival's performances come in order by date. This is actually a much easier method than going through the calendar. 

If you would prefer to pay in person, you can also buy tickets wherever there is a Major movie cineplex. The TicketMajor outlets ae usually open from 10 am until 8 pm. There are a lot of Major cineplexes and not only in Bangkok. There is one in the Paragon shopping mall near Siam Centre as well as in the Esplanade mall near the Thailand Cultural Centre. I believe there are some TTM counters in locations other than cineplexes but they aren't showing up where they should on the above-linked pages. 

I don't think festival's shows are often sold out, though. There isn't a big enough population interested in these arts, though I think there would be if tourists were aware of the festival.  Nonetheless, that doesn't mean you can get the best seats either. Because embassies are so involved in sponsorship, they also receive many tickets to disperse to employees and insiders. Often the beneficiaries don't use the tickets. Fortunately, if no one fills the seats after the first act, it's okay if you occupy them.

Generous Embassies and Companies

Female dancers of Poland's Baltic Dance Theatre

Poland's Baltic Dance Theatre in 2012

So how has Thailand been able to support such a line-up every year since 1999? As often the case with film festivals, foreign governments are very generous in their support. So too are foreign companies with branches in Thailand. Thailand is indeed a strange venue since Western classical music arrived quite late and there are no truly professional modern companies and even traditional khon dance groups struggle.  

The subsidies by the embassies and companies mean that tickets cost much less than normal.  Tickets for New York's Limón company in 2012 ranged from 700 baht to 2,200 baht. For the Orissa Dance Company, they started at 500 baht and went up to 1,500 baht.  For the Staatsballet performances, they ranged from 1,000 baht to 4,500 baht.

How to find the Thailand Cultural Centre

Qasar Dance Company Brazil

Brazil's Qasar Dance Company

All performances take place at the Thailand Cultural Centre, which is way up on Ratchadapisek Road, far from normal or familiar tourist haunts but more or less on an MRT line, as a describe in detail below.

Consult a map of the Skytrain and MRT (subway) system and you'll notice that the Thailand Cultural Centre Skytrain station is only a few stops up from the Sukhumvit Road station. Sukhumvit MRT station also nearly intersects with Asoke Skytain station. Press the "location" link below and it doesn't look like the route from the Thailand Cultural Centre MRT station to the actual cultural center is so complicated either. 

Well, it is. Once you exit the station, after dutifully following exit signs marked "Thailand Cultural Centre," you'll find yourself in the middle of multiple whizzing highways and with no signs for the center in sight. Apparently, if you're the kind of person that attends events at the cultural center, you're not a person who takes public transportation. It's probably assumed that you have a driver. If you're on the subway and running short of time (30 minutes and ticking until showtime), I suggest that you get off one station early--that would be Phra Rama IX--and catch a taxi from there. Because the taxi driver won't have to loop around, it's probably faster than taking one from the Cultural Centre station--if you can even snag one there

There are two almost magical aspects that make traipsing from the station to TCC easier than usual in Thailand: the term for "Thailand Cultural Centre" is easy to pronounce (soon wat-taa-na-taam) and all the folks at sidewalk stalls and makeshift restaurants can point you in the correct direction! Nonetheless, give yourself at least 20 minutes 

My recommendation: First, take Exit 4 from the MRT station. Signs inside the station point you to Exit 1 or maybe Exit 1 and Exit 4. Take Exit 4. When you emerge, go left and walk past a Big C mall. In the distance, you'll see a blue tubular pedestrian walkway fording many lanes of highway. Take that. At the bottom, you still have to take another side road to reach the Cultural Centre; just keep asking for soon wat-taa-na-taam and you'll be okay.

I have marked the Thai Cultural Centre on the map linked to the location address at the bottom of this post. The entrance is at least 700 meters away from the MRT station. Allegedly there is a shuttle bus running between the station and center, starting around 5:30 pm, but I think it's an cruel rumor. If you want to have dinner or whatever before a performance, the aforementioned mall has a Black Canyon restaurant and similar chain restaurants.

Event: Bangkok International Festival of Dance & Music
Usual date: Approximately four weeks in September and/or October
2013 dates: September 13 to October 14
2013 program:
Venue: Thailand Cultural Centre, Ratchadipisek Road, Huay Kwang
TCC phone02-247-0028  
Nearest MRT (subway) station: Thai Cultural Centre, Exit 4
Nearest hotels: Bangkok Cha-Da, Emerald, Swissotel Le Concorde, Ban Kaew Mansion
Ticket prices: 500 baht to 4,000 baht per ticket. 
Booking: Thai TicketMajor online (go to "Live Shows"tab or search by festival names), TTM outlets such as at Major cineplexes
Thai TicketMajor phone: 02-262-3456

Video below: New York's Limón dancers accompanied by Bach 

Copyright +Susan Cunningham. No republication without permission. Contact SoutheastAsiaTraveler @

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