In less than a decade Jitti Chompee has earned a place among the greatest dancers and choreographers in Thailand. Although educated in chemical engineering, his passion was always dance. As an adult, he dropped engineering and trained in classical ballet in Hong Kong and New York. After years working as a professional dancer abroad, in 2010 he returned to Bangkok, where he founded 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre.
Since then, Jitti has been invited to choreograph, perform, and produce several productions in Asia and Europe. His company continues to thrive as he and his partners strive to merge Thai classical dance with modern movements and visuals. Participating in La Fête 2015, he will showcase his interpretation of Georges Bizet’s famous opera, Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers).
Can you explain the creative process that drove your latest project?
I had a three-month residency in Paris in 2014, which was supported by the Embassy of France and the Institut Français. My time there inspired me to create more freespirited, cross-cultural pieces. This project introduces choreographic elements into Les Pêcheurs de Perles via minimalistic music that balances the classical and the modern. I’m also very interested in photography, and so I have been working with Juan Carlos Toledo, who was a dancer and photographer for the shows in France and the Netherlands, where it was first performed earlier this year. My interpretation will combine a contemporary dance performance and a photography exhibition. As for La Fête 2015, I hope to have a positive impact on local and international performing arts communities, as well as the audience.
How did you feel reinterpreting such a classic opera?
Opera is a form of obsession, one of revisiting the past rather than creating the future. Working with Les Pêcheurs de Perles has been challenging. It’s one of the standards in the operatic canon that remain exclusively the privilege of traditionalists. Today, it’s considered old-fashioned, lacking contemporary substance, relevance, and human meaning. So it gave me a unique opportunity to throw preconceptions away and converse with the audience in new ways, an opportunity that usually doesn’t exist with much of the operatic repertoire. I felt the need to make it more conceptually compelling. Ultimately, I chose to apply dance and theatrical innovations to evoke emotions from such a classic piece.
What inspired your choreography?
The choreographic process was inspired by Pablo Picasso’s cubist paintings. They gave me the idea to create choreography and scenography from perspectives that reflect the Modern Age. I’ve always been interested in blending Eastern and Western cultures. I try to do that here by converging classical Thai Khon dance (the mask dance) and contemporary dance in narrating the story. It was a bold task to integrate both cultures within one artistic piece. Still, I wanted to provide an alternative voice, both aesthetically and socially, to the art world through my new creation for this year’s La Fête.
Why did you choose to stage the performance in a parking lot? Are you drawn to obscure locations?
I picked the Rose Hotel as the venue because I like to challenge myself to find hidden locations in the city — places surrounded by tall buildings that conceal old and beautiful classic houses. My performance will be site-specific, as it was inspired by and created around the space in which we stage. I think the audience will be surprised at how we found unknown, unexplored venues, such as P. Tendercool Warehouse, Jam Factory, the Rose Hotel, and the swimming pool where we performed Demon in Venice.
What inspired your photographic exhibition?
Apart from opera, I have this great urge to unite my choreography with photography. I really want to transform the choreographic works in my imagination, ideas that sometimes cannot be interpreted as movements or are not practical in reality. I want to move my thoughts away from realism and into the world of narrative abstraction that photography provides. Photos can be exhibited anywhere public — markets, the metro, bridges where people can view and appreciate art as part of their daily life. Through photography, I can reach people in their local areas.