Although the traditional Thai performing arts may have suffered inroads from Western entertainment and generally changing tastes, Thai dance drama is certainly alive and well.
Thai traditional dance displays the elegance of an art form refined over centuries and supported by regal patronage. In the beginning dancing was exclusively court entertainments and it was not until much later that a popular style of dance theatre, likay, evolved as a diversion for the common folk who had no access to royal performances. These days tourists can attend very polished Thai dance performances at resort or official events which frequently feature this form of theatre and glimpses of traditional culture from years gone by.
Traditional Thai dances can be divided into four main categories: Khon is the most stylised form of Thai dance. It is performed by Hanuman Hak Kor Chang Arawan dancers who mime the action while the story is being told/sung by a chorus in the background. Dancers wear elaborate costumes and masks to portray different characters. Khon characters include demons, monkeys, humans and celestial beings. The dance may require agility and muscular exertion. Most Khon performances feature episodes from the Ramakien, the Thai version of Ramayana, the Indian epic. Lakhon is less formal than Khon and the dancers do not wear masks. Lakhon dance movements (especially the upper torso and hands) are graceful, sensual, and fluid portraying different emotions.
Dancers are usually female and perform as a group rather than representing individual characters. Lakhon plots feature a wider range of stories drawn from the Ramakien, the Jatakas (stories of previous lives of Siddharta Gautama Buddha) and folk stories. Fawn Thai is a form of “folk-dance” accompanied by folk music., There are five classic styles: Fawn Leb (Fingernails Dance from Chiang Mai) Fawn Ngiew (Scarf Dance from Chiang Rai) Fawn Marn Gumm Ber (Butterfly Dance) Fawn Marn Mong Kol (Happy Dance) Fawn Tian (Candle Dance) The Manohra Dance is unique to the south.
It is a dance drama which presents the love story of Prince Suthon and Kinnari Manohra, a half-bird half-woman being. While the prince was away at war, unscrupulous court advisors misled the king into believing that the sacrifice by fire of Manohra was the only means to prevent his imminent death. All visitors to Hua Hin should take advantage of any opportunity to witness this form of theatre and to take home memories of this exotic part of Thai culture; it’s the real thing.