BANGKOK — Franz Kafka’s seminal work “The Metamorphosis” is famous for its theme of animalism, alienation, and absurdity – where a man turns into a giant bug. Now you too can become Gregor Samsa, when you strap on a headset and become one at an upcoming arts festival.
That’s only one of the 14 art installations from 12 countries that are coming to the capital and Chiang Mai later this month for this year’s edition of the “Unfolding Kafka” Festival.
Set to run from Oct. 26 to Dec. 15, the festival will feature art exhibitions, installations, performances, and movie screenings in various disciplines interpreting the works of German-speaking Bohemian novelist Franz Kafka.
Choreographer Jitti Chompee, founder of the festival, said this year’s theme is “Kafka Zoo,” where he will “unleash Kafka’s creatures” and awake the debauchery of Bangkok’s art scene.
“At first, I was thinking about arts these days where everything is mixed with elements from different disciplines,” Jitti said. “When I was trying to relate the concept to Kafka’s works, I found that it’s like his crossbreed characters, which humans and non-humans are amalgamated into a single body.”
“This arouses new perspectives and reflects our own existential dilemmas,” Jitti added.
“Des Gestes Blancs” – Nov. 14-15, Hostbkk Theatre
Asked what would be his most anticipated show, he pointed out to “Des Gestes Blancs” (White Gesture) from France.
A father and his eight-year-old son, Sylvain Bouillet and Charlie Bouillet, will take to the stage and dance as if they are joshing around, touching on the complex emotions of parenthood and the inner child.
“It’s rare to see a father and a child on stage together, but what’s even rarer is that this show is time-sensitive to Charlie’s age,” Jitti said. “Its purity and tenderness makes the show very popular in Europe, and this will be their first performance in Asia.”
“Turning Solo” and “Blanc” – Nov. 20, Sodsai Pantoomkomol Center for Dramatic Arts
For serious aesthetes who rather prefer something abstract, Jitti recommended “Turning Solo” and “Blanc” from Germany and France.
The double bill highlights the interplay between performers, textiles, and space where the audience will see the process of various transformations.
For instance, in “Turning Solo,” Isabelle Schad will attempt to draw her self-portrait in a purely physical approach through choreography, whirling around while forcing her way out from clothing.
In “Blanc,” dancer Vania Vaneau joins the stage with guitarist Simon Dijoud to perform a theatrical piece based on their research into trances and transformations through shamanism and rituals.
“Blanc” reveals that that while a body has its limits, it is also endless in its potential and can be blurred between the real and the imaginary.
“Hard to be a God” – Dec. 6-7, Neilson Hays Library
Want something even more bizarre? Jitti suggested “Hard to be a God” from Portugal.
In this adults-only performance, the audience will be locked inside a café where they will observe artists John Romao and Romeu Runa clambering and trying to camouflage in various ways to reflect how pretentious contemporary life is.
“VRwandlung” – Nov. 16-Dec. 15, Goethe-Institut
Need to step away from the abstract transformations? “VRwandlung” is the most straightforward interpretation of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.”
This virtual reality adventure allows audiences to step into the shoes of salesman Gregor Samsa, who wakes one morning to find himself transformed into a giant bug. In his new body, Samsa begins to question whether he’s becoming less human.
In addition to the performing arts, there will be screenings of Kafka-inspired films and art exhibitions. The details of all the programs can be found online.
Jitti said the festival is not exactly a tribute to the novelist and there is no need to read any of his works before coming to see the shows. Instead, he wants people to appreciate the art that Thai people rarely get to see.
“Don’t be afraid to come if you don’t have any ideas about Kafka,” Jitti said. “I’m also learned about him from shows.”
Tickets for “Unfolding Kafka” range from free to 800 baht, depending on the act. All-Access festival passes are also available at Ticketmelon for 4,000 baht each.
The festival will be held at various venues across the capital including the Goethe-Institut, Chulalongkorn University’s Sodsai Pantoomkomol Center for Dramatic Arts, Hostbkk Theatre, Jim Thompson House, Neilson Hays Library, Rose Hotel Bangkok, and the Siam Society.
In Chiang Mai, it will be held at Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum.
Jitti Chompee is best known blending animal movements in his works. In 2010, he founded the 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre where he works as a choreographer and director before spearheading the first edition of Unfolding Kafka in 2015.