Dance review: Heady, thought-provoking display of why men play like they do

Nay Nai, a dance performance conceptualised by Thai dancerchoreographer Pichet Klunchuni, styled as a high-energy reality television competition, with four dancers and four segments. -- PHOTO: NATTAPOL MEECHART
Nay Nai, a dance performance conceptualised by Thai dancerchoreographer Pichet Klunchuni, styled as a high-energy reality television competition, with four dancers and four segments. -- PHOTO: NATTAPOL MEECHART

Dripping with heady testosterone, Pichet Klunchun's latest creation, Nay Nai, is a thought-provoking display of aggressive physicality and stunning control.

The dancer-choreographer who is best known for his boundary-breaking contemporary take on the classical Thai masked dance drama, Khon, delves into the unique world of gentlemen-in-waiting who served in the royal court of Thailand in the early 20th century.

To the melodic lilt of a piano, the audience is compelled to observe the lit stage, punctuated by four rope-entwined poles and four pairs of lace-up boots. This tuning of the senses allows for a heightened awareness to the on-stage action that is to take place.

Four dancers, including Klunchun himself, enter with transparent plastic costumes on hangers which are lit by neon fluorescent tubes from within. These colourful costumes are raised like flags, so they preside over the subsequent friendly taunting and act as a reminder of why the men play like they do.

Echoing the rigorous training nay nai, or gentlemen-in-waiting, go through, the cast charges at one other with punching bags and wrestle relentlessly. There are the young and reckless, and the venerable and serene.

Moments of humour emerge as one dancer teases the other. Unexpected hints of elegance shine through the benign violence, adding an intriguing dimension of beautiful surprise. These men are team mates and rivals, friends and foes. Like contestants on a reality TV show, they share the same spirit and aspiration.

The games segue into a physical enactment of Thai King Rama VI's adaptation of the western play My Friend Jarlet, with each dancer playing a character from the tale of friendship and sacrifice. Striking a series of poses which evoke grief, distress and love, the cast perform with a coolly unrehearsed quality, easing their way into profiled stances much like figures in a frieze.

Then, as a Thai karaoke song plays, stillness turns to movement and the stage comes to life. The menacing march of a soldier, the stately grace of a woman and the crumpling of a dying man are seamlessly woven into the intricately detailed hand gestures and inflections of Thai classical dance. Klunchun is mesmerising here, his dancing coloured with a tranquil femininity that is potent in its subtlety.

The drama disintegrates quickly, as punching bags are picked up once more and heaved onto shoulders. The raw ugliness of training resumes.

Gradually, the ferocious charging stops. One dancer lowers his suit from the ceiling, lifts it like a prize and punches the air in victory before leaving the stage. The others do likewise, having garnered the right to perform. What happened before was but an audition, a rehearsal. All the world's a stage, and now they are ready for it.

Klunchun remains, sitting on a chair as though installed on a throne. The audience applauds as his fellow dancers return to take their bows. They gather behind Klunchun, breaking into a comical groove while the choreographer's icy gaze seems to emanate an unruffled cynicism.

Book it

NAY NAI

Where: 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road

When: Wednesday to Saturday, 8pm

Admission: $35 from Peatix (go to naynai.peatix.com)