Comprising graceful movements, brilliant colours, soft rhythms, and a radiating presence, it is said that there are few performances more elegant and graceful than the traditional Thai Dance. Like many forms of traditional Asian dance, the Thai dance can be divided into two major categories – classical and folk.
The traditional Thai dance is symbolic of the Thai character itself. The art form is very strict, employing 108 basic movements and keeping the body upright from the neck to the hips, moving up and down using only the knees, and stretching to the rhythm of the music. A great deal of symbolism is displayed in complex and beautifully executed finger and hand movements. Sometimes specially designed fingernails add to the effect and complement the splendour of the spectacularly ornate costumes. All of it blending to produce a hypnotic and memorable performance.
Thai classical dances can be further divided into three major forms: Khon, Lakhon, and Fawn Thai.
Khon is the most stylised form of Thai dance, performed by dancers who mime the action while the story is being told or sung by a chorus. Dancers wear elaborate costumes and masks to portray different characters that include demons, monkeys, humans, and celestial beings. Most Khon performances feature episodes from the Ramakien, the Thai version of Ramayana, the Indian epic.
Lakhon features a wider range of stories than Khon, including folktales and Jataka stories. The movements are graceful and sensual, portraying different emotions. The dancers are usually female and perform as a group rather than representing individual characters.
Fawn Thai was originally an art performed in the royal courts of old Siam where precision and beauty were the highlights of every performance. Today, although Fawn Thai is still an integral part of royal performances, the dancers are selected and trained from among the general public and the performances themselves are an event for the general public.
It is usually performed by four to six pairs of dancers, though this number can go up to a 100 for important occasions. There are five “Fawn Thai” styles: “Fawn Tian” or the Candle Dance; “Fawn Leb” or the Fingernail Dance; “Fawn Ngiew” or the Scarf Dance; “Fawn Marn Gumm Ber” or the Butterfly Dance; and “Fawn Marn Mong Kol” or the Happy Dance. Each of these is accompanied by a special orchestra of traditional Thai musical instruments, with each having its distinctive tempo and movement.
These classical Thai dances can be seen even today at various cultural centres across the country. The costumes worn are rich in colour and style and vary from region to region. Apart from the choreography, synchronization, and movement, performances are appreciated more for their artistic quality than for the meaning or message. To watch these beautifully costumed Thais miming ancient stories is a treat that makes even modern spectators feel privileged.
Find your nearest Asian Store