Theatre Review: KHON: Exquisite Masked Dance Drama of Thailand is artwork come to life

Khon is a genre of dance drama from Thailand that combines several forms – dance, music, painting and crafts. Traditionally performed exclusively at the court and for royal functions, the masked dance is created for the Devine King with scenes from the Ramakien.

On this night at the Sydney Opera House, KHON: Exquisite Masked Dance Drama of Thailand was presented by the Thai Government in celebration of the 7th cycle birthday anniversary of H.M. Queen Sirikit of Thailand.

Divided into five episodes, the dance drama follows the story of the demon King Thotsakan who is enraptured by Sita and kidnaps her. Sita’s husband Rama and his brother Lakshman set out to find her, enlisting the help of Hanuman and his monkey army. A great battle ensues with King Thotsakan being defeated and celebrations signalling the beginning of peace and properity.

There really aren’t words adequate enough to describe just how stunning the costumes are. Adorned with elaborate embellishments, the Khon mask combines the mask and headdress, imitating the intricate appearance of the crowns, coronets and headdresses of the monarch and the Royal Family.

Every movement is deliberate, considered, studied and executed to the highest standard. Movements are precise, constrained and perfectly timed. The audience is transported to another world and another time, a world of overwhelming beauty where actions speak volumes.

Perhaps the most exceptional moments occur during Episode 4: At the Battlefield. The fight which occurs between Lakshman, King Thotsakan and Rama is represented through stylised movements and extraordinary acrobatics, as the men balance on each other’s thighs and shoulders. The sheer skill involved in these movements to make it appear effortless is amazing.

KHON: Exquisite Masked Dance Drama of Thailand is artwork come to life. The fluid, studied movements, the elaborate costumes and the skillful acrobatics make this one of the most brilliant pieces of dance drama you’re ever likely to see.

The writer attended the performance at the Sydney Opera House on 28 August 2017.