Reality TV and the Thai royal court

Dance performance shows parallel between rigorous training of gentlemen-in-waiting and contestants on reality TV

Punching bags and poles are part of the reality TVinspired Nay Nai. -- PHOTO: NATTAPOL MEECHART
Punching bags and poles are part of the reality TVinspired Nay Nai. -- PHOTO: NATTAPOL MEECHART

In the early 1900s, the Thai royal court was home to the nay nai, a group of handpicked, elite gentlemen-in-waiting appointed to serve the king.

Members of the group were trained in various skills, including sports, acting and dance.

The lives of the nay nai, the creme de la creme of Thai society, are also the subject of an upcoming performance conceptualised by Thai dancer- choreographer Pichet Klunchun.

"I was inspired by the nay nai, a group of gentlemen who were trained in many dimensions, to be role models of modernity and perfection during that time," says Klunchun, who is known for his experimental take on the classical dance of the Thai royal court, Khon.

"I am interested in this group because Khon dance, which I was trained in, was also one of the training routines for them. We are kind of related in some way."

Nay Nai by the Pichet Klunchun Dance Company opens next week at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road. The show is commissioned and presented by TheatreWorks, where the choreographer is an associate artist.

While he looks to the past for inspiration, he also deftly weaves in influences from the present.

Nay Nai is styled as a high-energy reality television competition, with four dancers and four segments.

He says he selected the format as he saw parallels between the rigorous preparation the nay nai underwent and the way in which many reality television contestants are being drilled today.

He says: "The way that they were trained is very similar to reality talent shows nowadays, where people train seriously and try to show their potential, so that they can be selected."

While the concept of nay nais emerged during King Rama VI's reign from 1910 to 1925, their legacy has endured long beyond their time.

Klunchun says: "During that time, their influence extended to the political, arts, cultural and social areas and the influence still continues to present-day society."

Some examples include the idea of male and female roles in Thailand today.

As the palace was a men-only area, the nay nai took over roles traditionally performed by women, such as cooking and dressing the king. It was also accepted that they dressed as the women in the palace.

Klunchun will also use the piece to explore male and female dynamics during the reign of King Rama VI, the time of the nay nai. That period, he says, saw a huge flourishing of the arts.

He adds: "King Rama VI created new forms of Thai drama and Khon, showing the faces of male and female actors instead of having them wear masks like in the past. He wrote plays, encouraged music and often acted in plays himself."

In this dance, an all-male cast performs female roles.

Klunchun says: "In the past, dance performances were only for the royals and involved only women. As a result, the dance movements for all the roles were created by a female master.

"Nowadays, even though the dancers are male, I can still see the femininity in them."

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