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Posted on May 20, 2015 in Artists-in-Residence
Unwrapping Culture

Alvin Erasga Tolentino, Artistic Director of Vancouver’s Co.ERASGA, is one of The Dance Centre’s Artists-in-Residence this season. In this guest post he introduces Unwrapping Culture, the work he is creating during his residency with Thailand’s Pichet Klunchun, which premieres this fall:

Co.ERASGA’s artistic vision for dance spans borders and continents. Inherent to the company’s mandate is the pursuit of the ongoing development of intercultural works invested through diverse collaborative advancement. As Artistic Director, I lead Co.ERASGA to such linkage by investing in building working relationships with artists that bring artistic growth, and that continue to inspire me.

My perseverance in working with diverse artists is both professional and personal, a journey for my own artistic growth but also a way to seek, discover influences and understand the authenticity that surrounds us globally and to access them in the creation of dance.

In visioning the creation of Unwrapping Culture for the 2015-16 season of Co.ERASGA, I am tapping into specific cultural Asian roots unfamiliar to my own through the discovery, guidance and artistic collaboration of one of South Asia’s most revered dance artists and visionaries, Pichet Klunchun. I am fortunate and humbled by this opportunity to encounter, learn and collaborate with Pichet, a master practitioner of Khon Dance, and to bring him to Vancouver.

Thailand's revered traditional dance form that spans centuries, Khon as a royal court dance has survived over time and Pichet’s mastery of the form includes a determination to continue the practice in his generation and to move towards modernization.

Pichet’s work bridges the traditional language of Thai Classical Dance with a contemporary sensibility, while keeping the heart and wisdom of the convention. He trained in Khon - Thai Classical Mask Dance - from the age of 16 with Chaiyot Khummanee, one of the best Khon masters in Thailand.  Pichet is the only artist in his class to continue dance as a career today, and has earned domestic fame, even notoriety, for his efforts to contemporise Khon.

I began to study Khon with Pichet in the fall of 2013 at the outset of our working relationship, with the hope of envisioning a new project. Needless to say, going all the way to Bangkok and immersing myself in his world in his intimate Tsang studio and theatre space was a profound experience. As a novice student meeting a master, I had to surrender to learn. Pichet promised me that if I keep learning Khon in the course of three years, I may have the physical language and understanding of the classic Thai court expression and of course, I would only want to continue to learn from a true master such as Pichet.

Pichet has agreed to initiate his first collaborative dance project with a Canadian dance artist. We are both entering an unfamiliar territory and discovering each other’s ways of perspective, creation and performance.

Our strong and common interest lies in our desire for Asian cultural preservation and aesthetics, the concept of old and modern culture meeting as a synergy for new contemporary artistic expression. This is our starting point for ideas, conversation and discourse: to honour cultural heritage and to find its voice in a complex modern society.

Unwrapping Culture is a tri-city project: Pichet and I will traverse through Vancouver, Montreal and Bangkok with organizing partners and communities while working on the evolution of the project. To articulate the nuances and capture cultural synergy and polarities that inspires our minds and bodies between the place of tradition and contemporary.

We are guided by the discipline of Khon’s traditional dance that will parallel our investigation towards the piece in search of creative components including visual, music, costuming, theatricality, movements, choreography and dance.

Unwrapping Culture is a response to our body, mind and spirit addressing traditional perspectives within our Asian heritages and to engage in a contemporary language via the performative body. Pichet and I are interested in forms and content, an artistic inquisition of cultural references and preservation responding in contrast to tradition and contemporary societal issues - excess, freedom and constraint, illusion and reality.

Co. ERASGA's partnership with The Dance Centre and MAI (Montreal Arts Interculturel) has been pivotal over the past ten years, producing and showcasing works such as OrienTik-Portrait, Field, Expose and Colonial. My company has benefited from this home base/trans-national support and exchanges through residencies and co-productions, providing linkage to an artistic development and a breadth of diverse artistic practices.


Co.ERASGA and Pichet Klunchun Dance Company’s Unwrapping Culture will premiere in Vancouver October 15-17, 2015 as part of our Global Dance Connections series. Full details to be announced.


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